Building a Better Brainstorm: Four Tips For Stormier Brains (Part 1)

Published: November 20, 2018

by Justin Difazzio

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Here in the OC office, one of the practices we stick to is a weekly creative meeting. “What is a creative meeting?” you might ask. Or you might not. Either way, our creative meeting is a time we set aside for all the employees to come together for about an hour and talk about what’s going on in the company. We showcase finished projects, talk about tasks coming down the pipeline, share interesting and relevant media we’ve come across, and sometimes just play games and chat. One of the things we leave room for in every meeting is brainstorming. It doesn’t matter if it’s logo design, blog ideas, project details, or what we should order for office snacks (Cheez-its, fresh fruit, and Gushers, if anyone wonders what our favorites are at the moment). That time is really important for breaking through creative blocks and getting fresh perspectives from people who may not be familiar enough with the subject to have preconceived notions of what is allowable. Because it’s so important to us, we started looking at ways to better those sessions, and we found four areas where we could improve, and we bet your organization could, too. Check out our first two tips, and stay tuned for the rest in the second half!

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1. Define Your Problem

Sometimes when we start a brainstorming session, we realize our ideas are actually answering a different question entirely than the one presented. Alternately, sometimes our question isn’t actually the one we wanted to ask in the first place. These frustratingly unproductive meetings can be avoided, though, if you make sure you define the question in advance. You might not be ready to brainstorm when you think you are. In fact, it might be helpful to have a session where you brainstorm for questions. Maybe there are multiple aspects to an issue that need solving before you can address the main point. With a well-defined question, you’ll get more well-defined answers.

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2. Makeup Matters

No, we’re not talking about the latest shade of eye shadow. We’re a come-as-you-are sort of agency. We’re talking about group makeup. Much of the research on better brainstorming addresses how to form a group in order to get the best results from everyone involved. The first part of that is including key people in the brainstorming session. Including people like your HR or accounting department, project managers, artists, designers, etc. ensures that there won’t be solutions chosen that are too expensive or beyond the scope of your resources in other ways. Those key people can nix certain ideas before they take up too much time or energy.

Another thing you can do is let people brainstorm alone. Whether they submit ideas through email or on paper, people who get to brainstorm anonymously are not affected by group dynamics and may be more likely to come up with more diverse ideas. In a large group, certain people will drive most of the conversation, leaving some members unaccounted for. If everyone has a chance to submit ideas solo, it eliminates that uncomfortable environment. Also, it allows for anonymity when judging ideas after the session. A mediator can present the ideas collected from each person to a group; that way no one feels tempted to endorse or deny an idea based on who it came from.

When brainstorming in a group, try keeping the group small. A group of 3-5 tends to get more done than a larger group. Groups of over five participants leave room for some to not participate. If you have more people, try several smaller groups who can present their top five ideas when the groups come together to judge ideas.

Stay Tuned

We’ll be back soon with the second half of our four tips for stormier brains!