5 Tips for a Successful Brainstorm

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By Mike Mitchell “We didn't know what to get them, but then I had a BRAINSTORM! … It was a bad one. Jenna had to put my tongue guard in.” -- 30 Rock’s Tracy Jordan

Ideation. Concepting. Thought-fermentation. Whatever you call it -- and from now on we're calling it brainstorming -- it’s an essential task at any ad agency. If you’ve ever felt burnt out or uninspired in the face of a blank content calendar, follow these steps to foster fruitful brainstorming sessions.

1. Invite Outsiders Someone who doesn’t work on the account? Invite them. Someone who just started working at your office? Invite them twice. No matter how ingenious you might be, if you’ve been holding brainstorms for the same client week after week, month after month, year after year, you’re going to run out of gas and your ideas will get stale. Fresh minds will offer fresh perspectives that give you fuel to keep working.

2. Check Your Ego at the Door Perhaps there’s someone you don’t always see eye-to-eye with creatively. Perhaps you have a colleague who seems a little “out there” or eccentric. They should both be at your brainstorm, to challenge the strength of your suggestions and to approach the meeting from their unique angle. There’s no room for ego in a brainstorm. Even Abraham Lincoln chose several men who ran against him for president as members of his own cabinet.  Moral of the story: Work with people who aren’t like you.

3. Don’t Start with Old Examples If your group seems lost and confused, a few particulars can provide context for where to start the discussion; however, if possible, try to begin more generally. Just this year, Joel Chan and Christian Schunn of the University of Pittsburgh published a brainstorming study, one of whose findings was that telling someone about a solution that worked in the past makes that person much more likely to come up with similar solutions. Avoid replicating past efforts and kick off your meeting with a fresh strategy.

4. Come to the Table with Ideas You don’t want your colleagues staring blankly at each other in the conference room. Set aside some time for yourself beforehand, to think of some things you can offer the group. Even if your ideas don’t get executed exactly as you presented them, they could very well lead to something that will.

5. Don’t Be a Harsh or Reactionary Judge If you make a co-worker feel like they risk getting ridiculed or looking stupid for giving you their thoughts, you will stifle an important voice in the room. Plus, you might just be misunderstanding what someone else means. Many of the most innovative ideas seem confusing or downright wrong until they’ve been properly executed. Be gentle with all ideas and the people who think of them -- you might end up nurturing something that once sounded crazy into something that moves people.

What other brainstorming tips do you have?