This post is one in a series from a presentation on Creative Slip-Ups: The 11 Most Common Mistakes in Brainstorming. The Introduction to the series is here.
The slip-up: More time is spent on strategy than creativity.
It’s always with a mix of amusement and frustration that I witness so much time spent by people buzzing and fretting over the strategy elements, but giving little time or resources to coming up with a dazzling big idea to win a piece of business or get a supervisor’s approval. Perhaps it’s my skewed perspective, but I’ve rarely seen a new business presentation succeed because it had a bang-on strategy but a mediocre idea.
Don’t get me wrong: strategy is important. It anchors the direction of a campaign. It identifies the key issues to address and the opportunities to leverage. It analyzes the target audience to uncover the insight. It traffics resources so they’re used wisely. But strategy doesn’t create the idea. That’s creativity.
At the very least, from receiving the initial request for ideas to submitting the final proposal, shouldn’t at least half of the time be spent on creativity?
The 90-10 Rule
Brainstorms are governed by the 90-10 Rule. For every ten ideas created in brainstorming, nine will be boring, illegal, illogical, immoral, illicit,
undoable, or been-there-done-that. But the one idea in ten will be good, fantastic, thrilling, or there’s-something-sensational-here-but-just-not-yet.
To make this principle work in your favor, you need as many ideas as possible. Yes, even bad ideas because when you think about it, good ideas often come from bad ideas.
By increasing the 90% bad ideas, you exponentially increase the 10% good ideas.
From Alex Osborn: “Time after time we have said that ideas should be regarded as ore – ore which has to be refined into maximum value. Our average yield is less than 10 usable ideas per 100 produced. Is that so bad? In gold mining, it takes nearly 200,000 ounces of ore to produce one ounce of gold. And it takes 6,000,000 blossoms to produce a pound of honey.”
The solution: Brainstorm early and as often as possible.
Most leaders or account directors get their team together at the beginning of a brainstorm or pitch to consider the request, debate prospective strategies, organize the research, and assign responsibilities. It’s also natural to start brainstorming at this time as well.
Here’s the catch: DO NOT select the idea. You haven’t had enough time, background or thought to select one – and frankly, you probably don’t have the right one yet anyway.
Instead, continue to write everything down, publicly if possible. Tell the office. Get people thinking from the beginning so you’re not waiting until the last minute for ideas. Ideally, you should brainstorm in small groups at least an hour every day until you’ve found your big idea.
I’m not against big, full-tilt brainstorms – but they’re often more work than effective. If you’re a smaller office, you also don’t want to burn out everyone at the beginning, or go back to the well over and over to the same people for the same assignment.
Personally, I find smaller groups ideal: the facilitator, plus 2-3 others. I like putting up a sign-in sheet in blocks of time throughout the day. People sign-up whenever they’re free. We meet quickly, always standing-up. I explain the assignment quickly, just enough information to be dangerous. We do a quick ice-breaker, then start with the ideas. They talk, I write on flipcharts. I usually don’t get more than two pages of ideas. I thank them, they go away. Next team arrives, and we lather, rinse and repeat. Sometimes I’ll continue on with an idea that’s intriguing, or other times we’ll start fresh. If I do have to go back to people, they haven’t been dragged through the bad ideas and so they’re more apt to jump in and brainstorm anew.
Again, I like to keep the flipcharts up and on display. People’s subconscious or unconscious thinking will continue to think about the problem after a brainstorm. In my view, I don’t care where you think of the ideas. I only care that you tell me about them so we can add them to the rest. By having the flipcharts active, it reminds people that a team’s in the middle of an important pitch. In several instances, I’ve noticed people will gather casually in front of the flipcharts over coffee or lunch. I particularly like how it reinforces a creative culture.
A final point. Always carry pen and paper with you. You don’t want to lose a good idea simply because you aren’t prepared. You never know when inspiration will strike. Keep a simple pen and paper handy – purse, gym bag, briefcase, car, bedside – to write down your thoughts.
Any other thoughts or tips to share on increasing your ideas beyond brainstorms?
Previous slip-up: Thinking your audience is simply a statistic.
Next slip-up: Brainstorming without any tools or exercises