Soon after, an agency where I frequently run brainstorms asked me to run a session to develop ideas for a client’s new product launch. I asked if the client was coming to the meeting, and the response: “They only want safe ideas.”
It probably isn’t a surprise that the client and agency were talking about the same brainstorm.
These opinions aren’t uncommon. In 2005, an industry newsletter reported clients felt ‘creativity’ was a ‘highly important’ attribute of their agencies, but generally gave them low marks. Later that year, the same newsletter reported one of the biggest areas of complaint by agencies of their clients was their unwillingness to implement ‘good ideas.’
It doesn’t matter which partner is right or wrong, because if one partner wins, both partners lose. In the spirit of mutual success, here’s ten commandments to follow for the most successful brainstorms.
Rule 1: Commit to working on both sides of the table. You’re partners, which means you share 100 per cent of the risk and reward, which must include selling it internally and externally. If you don’t trust your partner, you have a much bigger problem than generating ideas.
Rule 2: Have a clear strategy agreed-to prior to the brainstorm. Agree what the purpose of the brainstorm is by developing a creative brief in tandem, then sharing it with the brainstormers.
Rule 3: Determine ‘creative criteria’ in advance of the brainstorm. Make a list together of the specific criteria you’ll use to select the best idea – but hide it from your participants until the end of the brainstorm.
Rule 4: Do some research in advance of the brainstorm. Learn and share as much as you can about the topic, situation or target audience. At the very least, answer this one specific question: even if your consumers knew about you/your product, why wouldn’t they spend their hard-earned money on it?
Rule 5: Find a neutral facilitator to run your brainstorm. Your job is to participate – not to facilitate, mediate, write, listen and keep energy high. Neither partner should lessen their impact by splitting your focus and attention. Either find someone inside your organisations to save money, or hire someone externally.
Rule 6: Think about the brainstorm environment. A great brainstorm is like a great party. It should feel spontaneous but it’s planned to the hilt. Give proper thought to participants, location, games and exercises, food and drink.
Rule 7: Do everything possible to prevent negativity in the brainstorm. This is the single biggest reason why brainstorms fail. You don’t grade eggs as they’re being hatched, so don’t try to brainstorm and critique ideas at the same time.
Rule 8: Do not personalise criticism of your ideas. No one should be allowed to treat a brainstorm as a contest, or a way to boost their ego. Your purpose is simply to generate ideas which others might build upon to make better – and vice versa.
Rule 9: Anyone can disagree about anything, but no one can disagree without stating a valid reason. None of these are valid reasons. That won’t work here. We’ve done that before. I don’t like it. Because I said so.
Rule 10: Have fun and reward the group. This is the only opportunity in your job to play well with others and get paid for it. The best brainstorms – the ones which create great ideas – are always fun. And, at the end of the brainstorm, reward everyone for their contributions.