Looking for the next game-changing idea. It's a noble cause. One whittled away at in meeting after meeting, google search after google search until we reach the breaking point: It's time for a brainstorm.
We gather interesting people from around the company. Arm them with carbs, caffeine and Sharpies and hope for the best. Sometimes they turn out the big ideas and sometimes ... they fizzle into frustration, aggravation, or even general malaise (I always wondered if I could get "general malaise" into an advertising blog post).
We all know the insidious enemies of good brainstorms:
- The knee-jerk why it won't work response: At their best, brainstorms are about gathering as many new ideas as possible. The editing comes later. It's nearly impossible to get idea momentum going when your energies are divided between defend and develop.
- Mired in just how it will get done: There will always be details to be worked out. The pixel dimensions really do not matter right now. Big picture, people.
- The focus group of one: The self-appointed expert who takes the stage claiming he can speak for all people who have ever enjoyed a Cheeto because he himself has been eating Cheetos so long that the little strips of skin under his fingernails are so permanently tattooed orange that he appears to have had a strange form of a french manicure (potentially one with a Halloween theme). Let's keep it open - every product has lots of different customers.
- And, of course, the worst of them all: silence *crickets*
But how can we do it better? What can we do to keep the ideas flowing and the enemies at bay?
I think a successful brainstorm is the responsibility of both the facilitators and participants.
What facilitators can do:
(You know, beyond bringing squishy balls and candy and such)
- Give a little homework: Help people get in the right mindset and feel invested with a quick homework assignment - something that they can share to kick off the day
- Stimulus: What new information or experience can get us going? An inspiring video, a site visit, a new data point.
- Instant feedback: Let people know they'll get a chance to not only share their ideas, but vote on what they think will work. "Before we leave today, I'll ask you to put a hash mark next to the 5 ideas you like most..."
What participants can do:
- Say yes and...: It's the ultimate brainstorm discipline. Can you build on an idea - add a new angle, make it better, create another application?
- Tagging: Give your ideas a headline. Not only easier for whoever is capturing the ideas, but also good way to get to the sellable proposition.
- Table the usual suspects: Agree in the beginning that you'll do all the obvious stuff (like get a project manager or create a brochure). Concentrate your in-brainstorm time on more unusual ideas.