Five Tips for an Effective Brainstorm

August 29, 2019

Leading a successful brainstorm is not tricky. It is simply the product of good planning.

Over the years, I have hosted my fair share of brainstorms. Some fell flat and others resulted in wild ideas that once tamed turned into stellar campaign concepts. I have determined that planning and structure are key to driving productivity. It takes some practice to manage the room and focus creativity, at times, but every session presents the opportunity to demonstrate leadership. Whether capturing rapid-fire ideas or being mindful of a voice in the back of the room that is timidly sharing a half-baked idea, the ability to keep up the momentum and maximize the talent in the room are also key to running a worthwhile brainstorm.

Here are five other tips to jumpstart brilliant ideas.
  1. Assign the Prep Work – The most productive brainstorms often begin with ideas from those who have taken the time to read, digest and think about the creative brief or other materials that were shared in advance. It is that initial pre-read that grounds the participants in the client’s business, offers information about the goals that need to be achieved, and a few resources or online sites that should be reviewed in advance. If you do not have a full creative brief or you are simply trying to generate jump-start ideas without client direction, consider sharing a top-line idea or theme as inspiration to the group.
  2. Motivate with Sweets – I always appreciate a surprise treat during a meeting. And while it may sound trivial, treats, tchotchkes and other branded materials can elevate the energy within a room from the start. Snacks can fight fatigue, while other items can satisfy those who likes to fidget and showcase the brand that is up for discussion.
  3. Appoint a Scribe – Good facilitation requires good listening skills and very sharp group awareness. Consider having one person close to the project run the meeting. A scribe can build off his or her direction and write down every single idea that is mentioned, taking a neutral and respectful stance toward each idea. Knowing a scribe will map out the ideas, the moderator can focus on building off shared ideas and take cues for new direction if needed. 
  4. Round Robin Versus The Post-Its Method – There are many different ways to jumpstart brainstorm session. In some cases, it may be most effective to simply ask who wants to share an idea first. At other times, you may want to shake things up and make the brainstorm experience more interactive. Give each participant a stack of Post-Its, trying to assign a different color to each participant. Next, share one central idea or business case for them to generate ideas around. Set a timer and ask everyone to write one idea on a Post-It, knocking out as many as possible and putting the notes onto a whiteboard (or the wall!) before the buzzer rings. Once complete, read the ideas aloud, moving like concepts together and sharing them with the room. You will find that some ideas will rise to the top as other complement one another and drive towards a bigger theme to talk through. 
  5. “Yes, and?” – No idea is too small or too big. Rather, each presents opportunity to shape the ideation. I have always been a fan of the “Yes, and?” technique that is often used in comedy improv as it does not allow for ideas to be analyzed or scrutinized for sounding off base. It not only helps generate a new idea quickly, but also softens any critique. Some groups find this technique hard to follow, but try it once your team has narrowed down the ideas and see how things get remixed.

Remember, the simple nature of a brainstorm can foster truly creative ideas. Nevertheless, a little advanced planning is needed for the meetings to be both fun and fruitful.