Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to hold the bestest brainstorm ever

As part of my job I hold lots of brainstorms. They're an essential part of the strategic and creative process, as they get a diverse group of people thinking about the same topic in a small space. This inevitably leads to a good cross section of ideas and ultimately sparks new ones.

I believe there's more to holding a brainstorm than simply sending an invite. Here's a seven-step process for holding your "bestest" brainstorm ever.

1. Invite the right people
Your brainstorm is only as good as its attendees.  Make sure you have the right people in the room, and make sure you have a diverse group as well.  Participants should either be subject matter experts in some way (topic, client or technology), or could even be the intended target.

2. Define a purposeWhy are you holding this brainstorm? What are the client's goals? Is it to develop a marketing approach, a social strategy, a creative direction? With limited time it's essential that everyone understands the purpose up front.

3. Provide background
Spending the first 15 to 20 minutes of a brainstorm briefing everyone on the project's background sets the brainstorm up for success. Typically, that includes running the team through a short deck or brief that provides insights into to the the target user, the marketplace (trends, competitors, etc.) and any other key findings. A framework to brainstorm around is also important, as it provides structure for your participants to work within. For example, a "day in the life" in which participants can brainstorm how a user might interact with a brand throughout a typical day.

4. Embrace sticky pads
I'm a big fan of balancing individual contributions with the group's thoughts and I think sticky's are a good way to do this. Typically, I will ask everyone to spend a few minutes writing down their ideas (one per sticky note) and then get them up on the wall so that everyone can look at all of the ideas together. I like having people "cluster" ideas together so it's easy to walk through the ideas at a higher level as a group. In reviewing ideas, be sure to document any new ones that come up.

5. Boil it down
The first round of brainstorming is often a throw away. That's not to say there won't be some good stuff. There may be and I would suggest pulling out a few of the best ideas and prioritizing those. Overall, though, the first round is just your starting point.

6. Pushing for the good stuff
More often than not, the really good ideas come after everyone gets their initial thoughts out. Ironically, this is also the time when people feel like they are all out of good ideas. Push them! That may mean letting the group sit, staring into space, or with pen in hand not sure what else to write. People will most likely get antsy or may even want to leave. Wait it out and be sure to schedule enough time (90-120 minutes) for the session so that you can get past this point.

7. Define next steps
If you have the time I would suggest grouping participants in two's or three's and having them take a few ideas and come back a day or two later with additional thoughts. Following up is key or else you may lose momentum.

That's my approach to a good brainstorm.  Do you have additional ideas? I'd love to hear them!

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