While preparing for a brainstorming session may seem counterintuitive, a little forethought can help you produce ideas more effectively by framing the discussion from the outset. After all, how many times have you optimistically organized a group brainstorm only to find the team takes a tangent rather than talking about the task at hand? Creatives are especially prone to "losing" themselves in idea-generating meetings, moving so far off track that no one remembers why the meeting was called in the first place. Following are some suggestions designed to help you manage the creative process and encourage the best ideas from your colleagues.
Begin before the meeting starts. Creativity is difficult to schedule, and the best ideas often appear at the most unlikely times. Give participants advanced notice of the meeting and its purpose so they can chew on the problem for a few days. By doing so, you’ll benefit from the brilliant idea that strikes as someone is brushing his or her teeth instead trying to corral creative genius into one short session.
Write it all down. A great idea that comes at 2 a.m. isn’t going to be of use if the person who thought of it can’t remember it the next day. Tell participants to have a pen and paper handy while they brainstorm on their own before the meeting so they can record suggestions as they strike. Have them pare down the list to the top three or four ideas prior to the meeting so the group can discuss only the very best thoughts once it gathers.
Provide some history. Brainstorming sessions are frequently called because the ideas already generated aren’t working. Give the participants a list of ideas that have been rejected so far and the reasons why.
Limit the invite list. You may assume that the more people you invite, the more ideas you’ll generate. But, in fact, the opposite may hold true. Chances are there will be too many voices competing for attention, and those who are on the shy side may not contribute anything at all. You also run the risk of one individual leading the entire group down a single path—exactly what you don’t want to occur during a brainstorming session. Limit the group to seven or fewer, if possible.
Leave the bigwigs behind. Ask a junior copywriter, senior art director and executive vice president to the same meeting, and you’re likely to evoke feelings of competition and intimidation, distracting from the generation of brilliant thoughts. After all, when a high-level supervisor is present, employees may want to impress him or her and be less willing to suggest ideas that fall outside the box. Unless a manager specifically asks to participate in the session, limit your group to those who don’t reside on executive row.
With just a little preparation, you’ll avoid arriving at obvious solutions—or worse, useless ones—and instead turn brainstorming sessions into the truly creative process they’re intended to be.
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