If you work in a creative field, you can almost certainly relate to the never-ending pursuit of that lightbulb moment. We’re all constantly searching for the “AHA!” idea that comes to you in the middle of the night, but the truth of the matter is that more often than not, it takes more than one brain to reach that magic moment.
Mastering the art of an effective brainstorm is the cornerstone of any great agency. It takes skill and coordination to guide the ebb and flow of ideas toward an end goal. Follow these guidelines and you and your creative team will be smooth sailing to “I love that idea” land.
Share background about the project and brand, the target demographic, and the overall goals of the campaign prior to the meeting so your team can come prepared. Research brainstorming exercises that pertain to what you’re hoping to gain from meeting. Having these creative sparks is the perfect way to get things rolling when you get started, plus you now have a bank of creative inspiration if discussion runs dry down the line.
Keep the canvas blank.
The worst thing for creativity is to predispose people to ideas. You want your creative team’s minds to be totally blank and in the “anything is possible” mindset. If you come into a brainstorm with examples in hand, you put yourself in a box before you’ve even begun. Don’t suggest any ideas pre-brainstorm to keep the door to the big idea wide open and stay away from the perceived mold.
Some people love to add their two cents to a conversation, but others may need a little bit of a nudge. Designating a moderator not only elicits contribution, but also keeps anyone from totally stealing the show. Consider different formats—written contributions, improv exercises (“Yes, and” can be a powerful tool)—to encourage broader participation from everyone. If some of your team isn’t participating, don’t be afraid to gently ask them for their thoughts on the topic at hand. Creating this kind of level playing field can set the tone for all future brainstorming.
Diversify your portfolio.
To get the most out of your brainstorm, be sure to select a diverse group of participants. Invite people from other departments, as well as interns or C-level staff if they’re available. Adding different viewpoints to the mix ensures the discussion will include unique perspectives. Keeping the conversation fresh is crucial to developing new ideas and figuring out if they can actually work.
Never say never.
There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Even if the idea isn’t entirely feasible or the right fit for your project, you never know where a conversation can snowball from something totally out of the box and maybe even inspire future projects.
Keep it positive.
Brainstorms need to be a friendly, welcoming environment. Throwing ideas out on the table can be intimidating, and being told an idea isn’t good can cause team members to recoil and be less likely to share more ideas going forward. Compliment your team’s contributions to the conversation and maintain a positive atmosphere to keep everyone open and talking.
Have an end goal in mind, but let ideas flow.
The beautiful thing about a good brainstorm is that it can end up in a completely different direction than you imagined it would as the conversation naturally evolves. Don’t cut a discussion off prematurely just because it isn’t 100% on target—you never know what can be born from a seemingly off-topic idea.
That said, while going off course can be an interesting idea generator, be sure to gently reign things in if you find yourself too far off the beaten path. Otherwise, you might look up at the end of your session and realize you have tons of ideas, but none that are the one you were hoping for. Try and tie the “off-track” idea back to the main point to keep things headed in the right direction.
Save your space.
Don’t be afraid to change up your usual location to help look at things from a fresh perspective. Places with whiteboards, shareable screens, or other forms of collaboration-based technology are great for keeping track of all the ideas you develop as you go. Once you’ve found the perfect spot, make sure it’s yours! Reserve it in advance, and confirm with other office members that you can use the space. Pro tip: It doesn’t hurt to have a backup just in case.
Block your time.
Quality brainstorming needs a reasonable amount of time in order to garner the best results. Your team likely doesn’t have several hours to dedicate to brainstorming, but you’ll definitely need a solid chunk of time. Setting aside 30 to 45 minutes should keep everyone focused while also letting the creative juices flow.
Make sure that all team members involved have cleared their schedule and are prepared to focus on the discussion at hand. Discourage multitasking and don’t schedule other meetings or calls right when the brainstorm is scheduled to end. Instead, have a buffer period in case you’re on a roll.
It’s not over when it’s over.
Just because your time is up, doesn’t mean the brainstorm is over. If you’ve done it right, you’ve successfully planted the seed in the minds of your team. Start an email chain recapping what was discussed in the brainstorm and encourage team members to continue to share ideas in the coming days.
It also may require more than one session to truly craft an idea into something usable, so don’t rush through your brainstorm thinking you have to get it done in one meeting. Don’t settle for an idea you’re not in love with, allow ample time to have multiple brainstorming sessions just in case the very first one isn’t as fruitful as you’d hoped.
Great brainstorms can be the most powerful tool in your creative arsenal. Being able to pull the best ideas of your team’s heads can be the game changing piece of your project that puts your client, brand, campaign, or content on the map. Keep an open mind and your imagination running wild, and you’ll be well on your way to a winner!