Thursday, July 17, 2008

How to Brainstorm Better

One of my favorite movie scenes is a hands-on brainstorming session in Apollo 13, when the astronauts have a technical glitch ("Houston, we have a problem") and a team of engineers at homebase is given the precise materials available on board the spacecraft in order to patch together a solution. Fascinating and exciting!

There's also a good brainstorming scene in another Tom Hanks movie about an adman (I forget the title) in which the agency staff play office basketball while they toss around ideas. Thinking as a playful team sport.

Excellent article in Best Life magazine's August issue on how to think in cooperation with others. It sets one thing straight from the start: twice as many ideas are generated by people working solo than by a similar number of groups.

However, it's not uncommon to find ourselves in a group problem-solving situation. I did this sort of thing often in ad agencies back when I was freelancing ad copy, and finally got comfortable and happy with it. (Though my favorite kind of assignment was solo: bill us for x hours and send your list of ideas.)

Here are tips from Susan Welsh's "The Road to Eureka," which she takes from Sam Harrison's book Zing! Five Steps and 101 Tips for Creativity on Command.

*use brainstorming to build on and improve existing ideas, rather than to come up with new ones (I've usually seen the reverse)
*keep the group to a max of 5
*start by spending a few minutes on an unrelated exercise, such as finding ways to solve an imaginary problem
*when ready, encourage wild ideas that are focused on the goal
*people should blurt out their ideas, rather than taking turns talking
*allow no critical response to any idea
*don't go longer than an hour
*schedule a second session to allow ideas to perk

This process of fast blurting turned out to be fun once I got used to it. Sort of like pool volleyball. And getting into the swing of it really helps build the boldness muscles.

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Mojo said...

I want that job where you bill us for x hours and send us your ideas!

Peggy Payne said...

It's always been freelance gigs for me, since I like the independence.

But writing ad copy is pretty much like that: thinking up a concept with headline and visual. Kind of fun if you can forget the client,the budget and the creative director, and just play with it.