In the past two months, I’ve received five articles and two blog posts heralding the death of brainstorms. Has the economy caused this? Perhaps. I’ve had three brainstorms in the same time period cancelled. One client told me her boss said: “We don’t have money to implement new ideas at the moment.” Well, good luck with those old ideas.
Or, perhaps it’s because four of the authors had a new book to spruik. Each of them had a new “buzzword” and methodology which rendered the philosophy of brainstorms obsolete. One of them even confessed – and I’m not kidding – that he’d invented his new buzzword during a brainstorm.
Personally, I think the reason is even more simple. We’re all tired of attending badly managed, poorly organised and strategically inept meetings where nothing gets accomplished. In other words, no good ideas were generated.
Are brainstorms dead? They probably are, if this list of attributes describes your brainstorms.
- They’re held in a featureless conference room, with no beverages or food, no toys or stimuli, bo flip-chart paper and crayons, no fun, and very likely, no oxygen.
- There is no direction, no purpose, no insights, no information, no agenda, and no facilitator. Or, there is a facilitator, and he/she talks solely about their own ideas. Everyone else is there merely to witness the Immaculate Conception.
- The wrong people are invited. Or rather, the right people couldn’t or didn’t attend, so the people who weren’t invited originally (probably for good reason) become the front-bench by default.
- The brainstorm is scheduled for one precise hour, and darn it, people had better invent the perfect, new, unique, never-before-seen idea in that hour. Or else.
If this assessment is accurate, then I too hope brainstorms are dead. They don’t deserve this kind of treatment.
Personally, I don’t think brainstorms are dead. They can can and do work – but only if they’re given a bit of care and consideration in advance. A good brainstorm should be like the perfect party: energized and fresh, full of excited people at an unusual location with good catering. In fact, the facilitator should act like the perfect party planner, working their bum off behind the scenes to make the brainstorm look spontaneous and natural.
As with any meeting, a bit of ground work in advance is important if you want it to be successful. Some of things to consider for your next meeting:
- Be clear on the objective. What do you need the idea/solution to do?
- What’s the biggest obstacles to overcome? All the good news – benefits, features, USPs, assets, trends – are your messages. But if the solution doesn’t impact the problem, no amount of good news will improve a bad idea.
- Bring insights about the end user to the brainstorm. What do you know about them outside of their demographics? What psychographics make this audience unique?
- Do everything possible to make the meeting fun. Ice-breakers to warm up the creative side of the brain. Food and beverages, preferably with the two things which naturally speed up the body: sugar and caffeine, or even better, chocolate. Bring fresh fruit for the healthy ones.
- Supplies are necessary: pens, flipchart paper to write ideas, magazines or other throw-away picture books to inspire imaginations.
- Stand up! The body works much better when it is not sitting. Besides, brainstorms should only last 20 minutes to create urgency, or to bring in a new round of fresh thinkers to build on the first group’s ideas, and so on.
- For yourself, decide what criteria you’ll use to select the best idea. But don’t tell anyone. Stick it in your back pocket, and share when the brainstorms are finished. But, invite the participants to tell you why their favourite ideas fit the criteria.
What other things have you done to make your brainstorms more productive? Please add your comments below.