“It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all” Edward De Bono
As a creative director, one of my key roles is to get the ball rolling in a creative brainstorm. I will always do some homework in preparation for leading a session – but not too much. I don’t want my preconceptions to influence unduly at this stage. Nevertheless, I need to have the facts at my fingertips and my research will give me insight that I can share.
I’ll analyse the brief, consult with the account director on how brave the client might be, and hypothesise the end game requirements. I am careful to question everything – it’s so important to ensure that there is a tangible purpose and outcome to whatever solution we offer.
My own creative ideas don’t always pop up conveniently, at my desk or sitting around the board table – ideas conceived on the train, in the bath or in the middle of the night have turned out to be recent winners. This is where I admit to being sad enough to keep my mobile phone by my bed, not for the phone calls, but for the voice recorder – those 3am ideas are otherwise forgotten.
So I am slightly ahead when I step into the arena and brief a creative team. The start of the brainstorm will briefly check that my homework has been done correctly, and then I’ll concentrate on stimulating the process to find and suggest potential ways to achieve valuable end results.
Of course the client always wants the ideas to be 'newer', preferably ‘never done before’ and definitely 'bigger and better than those used last year’. The technology used needs to be 'ground breaking'. And whilst the budget may well seem generous on first inspection, it is inevitably going to be spread thinly and may well be less than last year. In reality, I’m also aware that good creative direction is not necessarily always about reinventing the wheel – but about really listening, nurturing and then adapting and improving what has gone before. Easy…!
Of course, coming up with the big idea is not actually that easy, but it is what I really enjoy. It’s definitely one of the most rewarding parts of my job – particularly when I am working with great people.
The tricky bit though, is throwing that first idea into the ring. I know from experience that the first idea is often rejected just because it is the first – so sometimes I will play the tactical brainstorming game and save my goodies for later. However, I do need to throw a good one in at the start, just to get the whole thing rolling, get everyone’s attention and of course to make a good first impression. The decision also has to be made as to how left-field to be. Does one start safe and get wilder and more ambitious or do you really push it out there and then have to rein it in back to reality?
One thing for sure is that if I manage to make everyone in the room feel comfortable about what they might say being a welcome contribution to the process, the ideas will start popping up. Sometimes, the really offbeat ones are the most interesting – even if they only serve to stimulate the one idea that is really going to work. And therein lies the conundrum – stimulate brainstorming to produce great ideas that might actually work, but not deter anyone from the wild crazy and potty ones, all whilst watching the clock and keeping an eye on the budget!
My golden rules for a sucessful brainstorm are clear, not just for me, but for everyone:–
Never ever make a face when something really obvious is suggested, or wince when it’s boring – in a good brainstorm, every idea has its value, even if it ends up on the side of the wipe board that is labelled ‘rejects’.
Be unbiased - recognise that everyone thinks differently and literally has a different point of view (it is this juxtaposition of viewing angles that often makes the whole). All contributions are welcome.
Use large sheets of paper or a wipe-board that everyone can scribble on so there are no territorial boundaries or inhibitions to scrawl. Everyone has to have a pen !
Good ideas don’t always come from someone who can visualise, so patience needs to be shown to those who scribble rather than sketch.
If silence descends, ask questions – that way you’ll get it going again. Spontaneity is key; if it’s not happening, take a break.
And finally, never be scared – a good brainstorm is somewhere where there is no wrong answer. As Einstein said ‘If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it’!
Of course, just when we are really getting going and all sorts of zany ideas are flying around, time starts to run out. It is then down to me to rein it in, put things into some kind of order, focus on the good ideas and make a decision. And then the really hard work begins. If our story can turn into a memorable experience we’ll win. On my head be it.