A friend (also a brainstorm facilitator) and I were talking yesterday that one of the primary characteristics necessary for our type of work is a relentless optimism, knowing that you will eventually find the idea. The good news is chance is on our side. Experience has shown me over the years that in almost every brainstorm, the team eventually creates and develops the brilliant idea.
Still, unsuccessful brainstorms occur. So what to do? Ironically, use a bit of creative problem solving to identify the issue and eliminate it.
There might be something wrong with the environment. The physical space isn’t conducive to brainstorming. The room’s dark, too hot, too cold, or featureless. Or, it’s distracting (windows on a more compelling situation, ringing phones or bleeting Blackberries). No stimuli: toys, visuals, exercises. A solution? Move. Go some place else, or if at all possible, go outside. Bring more and better stimuli into the brainstorm. Good food and beverage never goes astray.
There might be something wrong with one of the participants. Perhaps the most common, and most difficult to work around. A single person detracts and distracts the collective imagination. They’re negative, or positive but domineering, or stuck on assumptions, or unable to express themselves. Two solutions. 1) isolate the person and help them articulate the problem, and if possible, 2) have a brainstorm where they aren’t involved.
What if it’s the whole group, not just a single participant? Perhaps the team needs to be re-organised. Instead of one large group, schedule two smaller groups. Figure out if there’s a political issue.
There might be something wrong with the objective or purpose. In most P.R. or communications brainstorms, the objective is always the same: get media placements. Or the absolutely worst, tell our consumer how cool we are. The solution? Re-frame the problem. Start by brainstorming different ways to state the same objective, then brainstorm either strategies or tactics to match the new objective.
There might be something wrong with the problem itself. Similar to the previous point, here the team is trying to eliminate the wrong problem instead of trying to reach the same objective. The difference here is that the team or the client typically defines the objective. In this case, the target audience defines the problem. The solution? The team needs to better understand the target audience, their opinions, current mind-set, their history or experiences with the organisation, product or service. Also, focus less on the demographics of the target audience, and delve more deeply into the psychographics (how they behave, what they believe, what personal values they associate between themselves and their reflection on the potential product or service.
There might be something wrong with the research. The typical ‘wrong’ research is mis-understanding the target audience, but in my experience over the past few months, the growing problem are people who don’t do any proper research. First and foremost, the results which pop up on the first few pages of Google or Yahoo is NOT research. The solution? Take face-to-face to the target audience. In 25 years of being part of brainstorms, I have never seen a target audience lie about what they want or believe.
It may not be something you can identify. After you’ve looked at all the circumstances, and still can’t understand the problem, it’s time to cut the losses and start again.
You can take the hard and drastic path. Fire the facilitator and get a new one. Get a new set of people. Ask yourself if YOU are the problem.
Or, you can take the simple and fresh path. Stop and breath. Let unconscious/passive creativity work on the problem while you and your team go on to something more pressing. Get a facilitator to help you manage the process. (Are you doing too much?) And most of all, remember you have relentless optimism. It’s very likely the idea is there, it’s just not ready to show itself, so start again tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.
How else have you dealt with unsuccessful brainstorms?