I called off brainstorming because miracles do not happen

“Colleagues, it’s time for some brainstorming” a phrase that can be heard more than often in a communication agency.

This is the reason why brainstorming (both – a storm for brains and pouring rain of ideas) becomes the mirror of creativity for the entire organisation. They can be memorable, but they can also be boring or inefficient, and even more often there are simply too many of them. A few years ago our agency was merely choking from agendas overloaded with brainstorms and exhausted minds repeating the same ideas. As we began to address the problem, I started to think about how brainstorming could be replaced and what can it be substituted with. This, seemingly, practical need eventually changed not only the form in how brains move but also the content in what do the brains come up with.
In a communication agency, there is probably less time for that than in a creative agency. The structure of the organisation itself dictates the rules: an account manager with half of an assistant by the side is a creator, a strategist, a copywriter, and many more. A similar situation exists in the tiny internal corporative communication departments. For this reason, the expectation for creativity, ideas and enlightening is concentrated in the hour-long collective miracle. Although, when this miracle becomes a daily routine, the generated ideas no longer fall out of the same genre. So what should be done with that brainstorming?

Homework

Firstly, you must acknowledge that miracles do not happen. An hour with colleagues is only a meeting, a gathering. Who is invited to it, how it is prepared for it, how deeply delved into the subject is as important as the entire process itself.
How much time should be spent to prepare for brainstorming? After all, no one wants to spend an entire day for it, if it is not the most important project of an organisation. It seems to me that the golden rule is this: do not leave for colleagues to do something, what can be done by yourself. It seems strange, but the more we limit the participants with our given information, the more effectively their brains will work – they will simply be forced to think of something new. Occasionally, there will be situations that a well-done homework will allow shortening the brainstorming or it may no longer be needed at all.
Another factor of an effective brainstorming is a clearly formulated task. It is a common mistake when instead of this, an objective of a planned project is provided. The unexpectedly pressured participants will be vague, will name the safest solutions that were already seen somewhere. It is better to divide brainstorming into several parts with narrower tasks.

Call a friend of a friend

Communication specialists are quick in adapting to a variety of topics, business sectors, audiences, but they are also people. If you need an idea for, say, a power outlet business, five communication specialists will remain to talk about the two holes in the wall. The same will happen with shopping in Poland, cryptocurrency competition and the expectations of a remote rural community. Many areas in life are not covered by any market research or media. But, as the famous television quizzes have proved in the past, the help is closer than you might think.
There are many excuses for not calling or inviting a stranger or a semi-familiar person, but take advantage of this help and you will not be disappointed.
Firstly, a person knowing an area that is strange to you is like a glass of water traveling through the desert. The risk of taking the wrong path is also reduced. Secondly, a living person will always say things that cannot be found in special literature or research. Thirdly, a significant part of people is happy to “consult” even if they are only ordinary users. Lastly, interview 3, 4 or even 5 people and the credibility and value of your gathered information will be equal to a quite an expensive focus group.
No need to spit on the Internet. Even though it is difficult to not get lost and find useful information there, behind every blog post or comment, there is a subjective but authentic user opinion hiding. When properly structured, such information can offer a direction, idea or at least an expectation. It is even more fun to utilise such websites as Quora – here the questions from the dilettantes are answered by professionals or for other reasons, by users who are well-versed in a particular field. Sometimes also subjectively, but more often in a more detailed and argumentative way.

Invent a game

This summer me and my two-year-old son got caught in rainfall and hid under a big tree. I thought it will be hard to hold the little one steady, but it all worked out in an instant. After grabbing a few sticks, he started to intensively “fix” the tree: turning imaginary screws into the trunk, pressing buttons and making buzzing sounds for various tools. When people are already working in communication, creative drought is harder to fill, but games can come in handy here too. The desire to play, empathize and forget the reality is encoded in the mechanism of our imagination.
Ideally, as in childhood, we would create the game ourselves: putting brand attributes, communication topics in a particular order, or maybe making a news release out of them? Even more fun is to include the element of excitement and pick the most original idea in the Eurovision voting principle. Or did you try spinning the good old wheel of “What? When? Where? How? With whom? What did they do?”
The truth is that many of the proprietary methodologies, that are sold and implemented by consultants from various fields are game-based. The rules of a game allow us to briefly disable rational thinking that limits creativity and liberate thoughts in a different context.
And what to do after such childish brainstorming? The only answer is to go back to work.
Probably a path, insight or a hint to the magical idea is already in your hands. It is only left to notice it, polish it and grow it. Yes, good brainstorming resembles a garden bed more than a conveyor of ideas, but farming can be both fun and delicious.

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