After Ed Lee posted his thoughts on brainstorming, Julie Rusciolelli provided her perspective:
If we rely on sanctioned brainstorms to come up with every creative solution for our clients it can be taxing on the staff and burn up valuable resources. […] The best creative ideas I’ve had, have not been inspired by a big group of people in the boardroom. Even those silly books on creativity, stimulus cards and there’s even a software program to help you harness the power of your right and left brain are all useless tools. It’s being alone with my thoughts; a clear unobstructed mind that allows new ideas and concepts to seep in and take over is a best practice I adhere to.
Julie Rusciolelli, Rusciolelli Blog
While I agree with Ed on some of the nutritional challenges of having too many brainstorms, I’d like to expand on Julie’s perspective. I don’t really understand why the concepts of boardroom brainstorming and thinking creatively on your own should be weighed against each other.
I don’t get my creativity kicks at the ironing board like Julie (maybe a newer iron and a better board would help me) but I have my own little ways of letting my mind wander and explore new creative territory. Where and how doesn’t matter – as long as you do it. So, first of all, clearing your mind and allowing new ideas to seep in should be a no-brainer. If people aren’t thinking creatively on their own and need encouragement, what are they doing in a PR job? Inspiring people is important but it should only be the icing on the cake.
Second, the key to “sanctioned” brainstorms is preparation and discipline. Sounds boring? Maybe. But if you think that a boardroom brainstorm starts in the boardroom, you’re making a huge mistake from the get-go. It’s not about stimulus cards or software programs, it is about managing the process (if you are the organizer) and showing up prepared (if you are a participant).
If people haven’t started thinking on their own before the meeting, the whole group brainstorm could end up a huge waste of time. It’s about everybody doing some creative thinking on their own and then getting together as a team to develop something truly unique – based on everyone’s input. In other words, if Julie hasn’t ironed a few sheets on previous nights, she shouldn’t be in my brainstorm.
My High Road colleagues Natasha Compton and Hugh Scholey have taught me a thing or two about managing brainstorms:
- Management starts days ahead of the brainstorm. It only works if you apply discipline to your process. To think outside the box you first have to know what’s inside the box.
- Prepare and send out a brainstorm briefing. If you take care of the preparation and anticipate the biggest questions, you make it a lot easier for everyone else to free up their minds and focus on creative ideas
- Choose your participants. Not everybody in the agency needs to come to every brainstorm. Everybody has a different background and a different way of thinking. Put together a good mix of people.
- Ask everyone to come prepared with a few ideas based on your briefing.
- Facilitating the brainstorm meeting is critical. Just like a good moderator improves a talk show or press conference, you need somebody to be leading the meeting and keeping it focused.
- The biggest mistake made in brainstorms, and meetings in general, is keeping the participants thinking in the same direction. Brainstorms are made up of two essential elements – converging for ideas and diverging on one idea at a time to explore it further. If everyone in the room is converging and diverging separately then they’re not working toward the same end goal at the same time. You need to know how to run a good session.
- There are a number of different brainstorm techniques. Apply them. It works. If you want to know more about it, I’ll be happy to put you in touch with Nat or Hugh. I found that the techniques that sounded the worst on paper actually helped me come up with some good stuff
We’ve used this approach for internal meetings and for joint brainstorms with our clients, and it has been quite a success. Not only does it help to come up with bright thinking, it also allows us to do it without wasting time or resources. And it makes it more fun for everyone.
However, I do agree with Julie that boardroom brainstorms don’t necessarily inspire creativity. They are just a productivity tool. You don’t need a team brainstorm for everything. Choose wisely!
It is important to keep finding new ways and stimuli to inspire creativity in people. But once you’ve got them inspired, putting heads together in boardrooms can be a smart way of coming up with the next brilliant strategy for your client.