Across our network, Edelman’s employees engage in brainstorm sessions in order to generate and perfect ideas that come to fruition as activations. These ideas also express to our clients the power of the firm’s collective mind, a criteria by which all agencies are constantly measured. With the understanding that we are judged on the power, potential and polish of our ideas, there are ways to improve the process that leads us to them. Based on research in cognitive psychology as it applies to creative theory, here are five short ways to improve your next brainstorm session to better your team and further impress current and future clients.
1. Mix the Informed with the Uninformed
A group of people in a room who all lack an intellectual grasp of the subject and task at hand may perpetuate misconceptions and misinformation. At the same time, a group of experts often give in to imitation, self-editing and repetition. Individuals that possess a pre-existing cognitive relationship with a subject will be able to share developed ideas and then refine and transform them in a brainstorm. On the other hand, the uninformed can act as a test audience for these ideas that may reflect the views of the audience. Knowing the right mixture of expertise and naivety comes down to knowing your audience, not just your client.
2. Limit Group Size
Swarms of people do not produce swarms of ideas. The swarm becomes quickly divided into factions that only support a few ideas. This is simply the nature of large groups that expect individual participation. In order to avoid this stagnation, break up a large brainstorming ensemble into small groups of two or three. Ideas collected from smaller groups will produce a greater overall variety that can then be understood and applied by a separate ensemble. Limited group size also prevents extroverts from monopolizing a brainstorming session while introverts self-consciously refrain from participation.
3. Work in Phases
Our deliverables are based on a finite schedule, so too should the process by which we create them. It is a fallacy to think that because a complete answer was not produced in a brainstorm that the brainstorm was not in and of itself worth having. Brainstorm in phases and sections to perfect the components of an idea individually. Paint the picture in quadrants, not all at once. Cast your nets reasonably.
4. Do What You Have to Do to Relax
Walking into a brainstorm with the pressures of a deadline, a fear of failure, and the anxieties of needing to be impressive are all distractions from the task at hand, which is creativity. Creativity in its pure form is the ability to have an original thought based on pre-existing thoughts, to make connections that have not already been made1. Stress impedes this, and so too does caffeine in its own way. Caffeine blocks adenosine in the brain2, which is the neurotransmitter that slows down the brain when it is exhausted or stressed. It allows for the intensity to continue long after the mind and body have lost their natural functionality. Beer, on the other hand, has been proven to increase creativity by lowering inhibitions and decreasing working memory, which actually frees up the brain to make associations and build connections it might otherwise not make in a state of excessive caffeine-induced awareness 2. If you don’t drink, try meditation. Try drinking a cup of warm tea, especially if it is designed to decompress your mind via either herbs or olfactory sense. Regardless of what you must do to relax, be relaxed.
5. Create the Right Environment
A study at the University of Maryland Baltimore County1 shows that “positive affect” substantially increases the number of creative solutions produced in any given session. “Positive affect” can be achieved by providing food, showing a brief comedy film, or any other means of general elation. As a leader in a brainstorm, it is up to you to elevate the mood of the participants to increase the efficacy of the process. As a participant, it is also your responsibility to be elevating and keep the clouds of pressure, disparity, and doubt far from the shoulders of your comrades in creative thought.
What’s another strategy you’ve used during an effective brainstorm?