A truly great idea doesn't often arise from a single source. It’s developed only when washed and tumble dried through multiple perspectives. And like a rough diamond, the good stuff might be there, but it’s going to take a bit of effort to make it shine.
Brainstorming is a tried-and-true means of digging up those gems. It heightens communication skills, encourages open-minded thinking and smart decision-making, and promotes different perspectives and attitudes. But if you’re going to get the most out of your brainstorming endeavor, it needs to be more than a mere bull session.
Here are four things you can do to ensure that you get the most from your brainstorm:
1. Invite Your Client
We typically have our clients fly into our California offices. Between the nice weather, the change of scenery, and the opportunity to work in casual attire, it gives them a chance to relax.
But we don’t invite our clients simply to enjoy the weather. Having clients participate in the brainstorming means getting them to commit to several hours of rolling up their sleeves and working toward the best idea possible. Once you get them in the room, there are a number of ways of achieving this.
2. Play a Game
Brainstorming is all about developing group communication and creativity. The goal is to eliminate the “blocking” of ideas and find as many potential options as possible. Nothing leads to creative communication better than doing something fun like playing a game.
I find that two specific games get the best results. The first is the “Ultimate Game,” which involves taking dozens of words that relate to the sphere of what your product might be, writing them on cards, and sticking them on the left side of the wall.
Then, you discuss these words with your client and pinpoint which ones elicit the strongest response. You move these words to the right, then do it again — discuss this cloud of words and narrow it even further. After a few repetitions, you end up whittling it down to the few keywords that target the core message.
After you’ve found that core message, you move the group to a different room or setting for another game we call “Ban the Bazookas.” This game involves taking experts from all levels of your client’s company — from the most senior to the most junior — and having them fire away with every idea that comes to mind.
No idea is wrong because nothing is set in stone. By the end, your goal is to have the room looking something like an artist’s sketchpad, with ideas scribbled all over the place. If you keep the ideas moving and the atmosphere casual, you’ll be amazed by what emerges.
With the games, your goal should be to open up discussion and get words flowing and ideas on paper. Next comes putting a visual element to these ideas.
This means taking some of the most exciting concepts that arose during “Ban the Bazookas” and putting a face to the name, so to speak. Once again, you should keep things casual — the visuals can be as simplistic as stick figures. The whole point is to give the group 20 or 30 ideas to look at. What starts out as the most basic sketch could eventually turn into an elaborate rendering of a 100,000-square-foot project, but it all starts with putting pencil to paper.
4. Practice a Mock Brainstorm
Teaching your team how to achieve the most effective brainstorm is sometimes best done through practice. A mock brainstorming session is a great opportunity to learn the process and exercise your collective imagination.
This involves making up a fictitious client with an imagined set of project goals. Let’s say this imaginary client has a wearable sensor company, and he wants to set up an event at the next South by Southwest. Think of all the details to make this project as real as possible — timelines, funding, the works. Then, go through the brainstorming process exactly as you would if the client were in the room.
These sessions will give you a chance to get used to talking, hosting, scribing, and leading real brainstorms. Not only will it make you a better facilitator, but it will also benefit your team as a whole.
During these activities, remember to be acutely aware of blocking, which could quickly stifle the team’s creative juices. To protect against this, never criticize some ideas and reward others. There’s no room for scrutiny in a brainstorm; you’re simply trying to explore opportunities, so encourage equal participation from everyone.
These four building blocks will give your clients a chance to speak freely about their ideas and help you bring them closer to their visions. Remember, the goal is to keep things casual. Your clients should have fun. There should be no pressure, no deadlines, and no dollar commitment. Your client is used to carting those things around with them, but during a brainstorm, they’re left on the doormat.
Inside the room, it’s all about freedom. And it’s that freedom that allows for the flexibility that leads to great ideas.