If you work at a creative agency (Advertising, marketing, PR, sponsorship, digital, etc.), or if you are in one of those departments at a brand, you’ve no doubt been involved in a brainstorm session. It probably went something like this:
Step 1: Group leader sends out a meeting request, maybe providing some background information. Your response is to think, “Ok, better review that before the meeting.” Which you do, about five minutes before the meeting starts.
Step 2: The first 25% of the brainstorm session is used to get everybody up to speed, because A) they were provided with little, or inappropriate prep materials, and B) they didn’t really review it anyway.
Step 3: After an hour or two of flailing about, some half-ideas, most likely ones that don’t support business objectives, and most certainly aren’t real game changers are gathered up and the project leader goes back to his office to write them up.
Step 4: The next time you hear anything about this project is when the “final concept” is presented.
The time to rethink how to do a brainstorm has come and gone. Your model is broken and trying to fix it isn’t going to solve the problem. Sure, you could introduce some gimmicky brainstorm tricks, you know the ones – having balls or toys in the room, breaking into teams and awarding points, asking everyone to say their porn star names (name of first pet and the street you live on) – but that’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. So, let’s start fresh:
Step 1: Let’s get rid of the term brainstorm. When I think of a storm, I think of an isolated weather disruption that starts quickly, lasts a little while, then disappears. Kind of sounds like your brainstorms, doesn’t it? I want something bigger, more impactful and longer lasting. Let’s hold a Brainmonsoon! A monsoon is a season, it totally immerses the local population in a deluge and often leaves a long lasting impression.
Step 2: Sure, go ahead and call that meeting, generate a creative brief as well. But give your colleagues something more. Pique their interest, tell a story, do something that is remarkable or unexpected. In the days leading up to the creative session, send short (:30 – 1:00) YouTube clips, MP3 files and links to blogs that in some way cover your subject. Do a video yourself, explaining your feelings on the project. Leave unusual items in common areas or on people’s desks. Have a television in your space? Turn it to a relevant channel and leave it there for a couple of days. All of this is to get people in the right frame of mind, even if it is just subconscious.
Step 3: Don’t hold one creative session, hold several. A group of 10, a group of 3. Give half the people a creative brief, tell the others nothing. Invite someone who doesn’t work at your agency, and isn’t in a field related to the subject. There are myriad variations, how do you know which one is going to produce the best result for this project? You don’t, so try several. And the next time try several more. Don’t settle on just one or two ways of holding a session. Keep people out of their comfort zones.
Step 4: Here’s where I think a lot of agencies are missing out. You’ve finally gotten everyone focused, engaged and really thinking about the project, the creative session ends and you let them think: “Okay, I can check that off my list, what’s next?” That’s crazy. Now is when you are likely to get some really great ideas, after people have heard from others and had time to evaluate a variety of concepts. Here’s where the subconscious goes to work, making connections and coming up with new possibilities. The day after the creative session, request that eveyone involved take five minutes to do some private writing. Continuous, non-stop writing without any editing. What ideas did they like, what do they really think of the product/project, what do they think would be an amazing idea… Just keep writing. This should be typewritten and handed in somewhere completely anonymously. You don’t care who is providing the opinion, you just want total uncensored honesty. After a 24 hour period of contemplation, people will have formed new, or better ideas. Also, some ideas or thoughts will have been self-censored during the creative session.
Step 5: Consider sharing your process with the client. Tell them you didn’t hold a brainstorm session, you have a Brainmonsoon season. Show them the videos, music files, blogs, images, props and whatever else you used prior to the creative sessions, share with them video highlights of the creative sessions themselves. Show them the 20, 30, 40, 50(!) pages of notes, scribbles, jottings and drawings that were recorded during those sessions. Even share some of the private writing revelations. This will blow your client away. It proves you didn’t just spitball ideas for 30 minutes and take the first halfway decent idea. You totally immersed your entire team/agency in the project and the idea you are ultimately presenting is the winning result of a Darwinian, survival of the fittest battle, amongst dozens, even hundreds of ideas you generated and considered.
It’s time for a paradigm shift that will change the thinking of your agency/department and produce not only different, but better ideas for your client. Yes, it’s more work, but that’s not the point. Was your goal to get an idea as quickly as possible? Or was it to come up with remarkable, memorable, even game changing ideas? What exactly is the ‘right’ amount of time that should be spent to achieve that sort of result?
Note: The inspiration for elements of this post came from a session with Mark Levy.