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: People come to the brainstorm in the wrong mindset.
Given how busy people are – faster deadlines, instant communications, higher productivity – it’s no wonder that people come to a brainstorm in the wrong mindset.
The Closed Mind is the mind working in reactive mode, responding to tasks and duties. It’s a mind under pressure and on deadline. Its focus is order, priorities and efficiency. But at the same time, it’s impatient, probably working in tunnel vision to make sure things get accomplished. This mindset can take up to 90% of a person’s day at work.
The Open Mind is the mind working in proactive mode. To do this, it needs to withdraw from reacting to be able to be constructive. The Open Mind is an imaginative mind, one in daydream. There is no order: it’s chaos, a mess. It’s also flexible, curious and playful.
No surprise, most people come to a brainstorm in the Closed Mind. Closed Minds aren’t creative. If there’s no conscious attempt to switch from Closed to Open, the person will find it more difficult to create ideas. It’s the equivalent of putting a care into Drive, and then suddenly throwing the gears into Reverse.
Let me stick with the car analogy a moment longer.
A car in winter needs to warm up before it runs properly. Like any other muscle in the body, the brain also needs to warm up to work at its best. So, if you’re the person going into the brainstorm, or the facilitator managing the creative process, you need to mentally switch the gears in your participants’ brains to make sure they’re ready to tap into their imagination.
The solution: Get people into an open mindset.
I’m a big advocate of creative or strategy briefs. The best ones are short, no more than two pages. There’s a number of elements to include in a brief, but here are the top three things you’ll need.
The objective the client wants to achieve: both the business goal they want to achieve, as well as the role that communications will help play to achieve the business result.
The basic problem: what’s the issue to solve? The problem may be simple (“it’s a new product,” or “no one’s ever heard of it”). The problem may be difficult (“our service has no differentiation from the competition”). Be articulate and specific: focus on what needs to change.
The mindset of the target audience. What does the audience believe now, and why? Also, demographics are good, but psychographics are better. Based on what the audience thinks and believes, psychographics describe how they behave.
The simplest “homework” is to give participants an activity. For a new toothpaste, I had people brush their teeth immediately before the brainstorm. For orange juice, I had people write down everything they did at home an hour or so before and after drinking the new O.J. product.
For media stories, I had everyone buy two traditional media and print two news websites where they’d never typically find their client’s news. We brainstormed how we’d get the client into these publications and websites, then retro-fitted the ideas into actual story angles.
The key is to get people – as soon as possible before the brainstorm – using the product, putting themselves in the shoes of the target audience, or experiencing the circumstances of the client’s service.
For many reasons, internal conference rooms are notoriously bad environments for brainstorms, probably because people don’t properly prepare the space for ideation. If possible, I prefer to get outside. Corner coffee shops are great, but you also can be creative with places to brainstorm. I’ve done brainstorms in supermarkets to launch a new ice cream, in a shopping mall for a global barista, even once in my car, going through the drive-thru for a leading fast food restaurant. All you need is a clipboard, paper and pencils.
If you are going to stay in the office, find a place where you can be loud, silly and imaginative. Bring “sparks” (see Slip-Up #6. Use mental stimuli for brainstorming.)
Above all, bring good food and drink.
Here are some other posts addressing this same issue.
Also, icebreakers are an excellent way to start a brainstorm. It’s a whole topic onto itself, and I have two previous posts.
There are more tips on icebreakers in Slip-Up #6: Use mental stimuli for brainstorming.
Any additional thoughts, tips or hints to get people in the right mindset?
Previous slip-up: Brainstorms often start with the same objective.
Next slip-up: Using shallow research to make strategic decisions.