Rethinking Brainstorming

If you’re on a creative team, chances are you’re used to brainstorming ideas for new projects. But the process can end up feeling broken and not as thought out as it should be. This leaves creative teams with ideas that are not as revolutionary as they could be. I began thinking of better ways to cultivate ideas and initiate brainstorms after I read Quiet by Susan Cain.
Cain also wrote a great piece in the New York Times titled The Rise of the New Groupthink. She points out that throughout history we have seen amazing ideas created by research and creative problem solving from individuals rather than group brainstorms. In order to prevent brainstorms from becoming vaults for groupthink and mediocre ideas, I feel like brainstorms should be treated as positive sharing sessions where each team member can contribute and build on ideas that each member has thought of.

Here are some tips to think about while organizing a brainstorm for a project:

Explain the Project in Advance

This is the most important step. Either explain the project or send out a project brief at least a day before the brainstorm meeting. This gives everyone a chance to think it over and research any ideas they may have about the project before the actually meeting.

Know Your Team

Assemble a diverse team to be a part of the brainstorm. Pay more attention to each individual’s interests rather than their title or position in the company. Most importantly, get to know your team. This is important because when a project comes up that aligns with a team member’s interest, they can provide a wealth of knowledge and insight on that subject.

Give the Team Time to Research & Think

Team members should be encouraged to research and think about ideas before the brainstorm. Encourage everyone to bring any printouts, sketches, sites or anything that inspires thought. Some people think of ideas better spontaneously, so written out ideas or elaborate sketches shouldn’t be mandatory.

Haters to the Left

There is a huge difference between providing thoughtful consideration to an idea and completely bashing it. If someone on the team has been drinking a little too much hatorade they may need to step out. Discussion should be encouraged but bashing ideas because of meaningless assumptions only discourages others from sharing their ideas.

Asterisk Ideas that Need More Research

Write down all ideas. If an idea may not be possible based on technical considerations, place an asterisk next to it and ask a developer to research it further. Also place an asterisk next to any idea that may insult the intelligence of the audience or attack a demographic group. This happens more often than it should (just take a look at some of the Super Bowl ads). If an idea is based on negative stereotypes it either needs to be scrapped or approached in a more open minded way. Write down these ideas, but make note that they need to be researched and thought out more before presenting a final idea list.

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