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January 23, 2015 Marc Williams

Another article on brainstorming. This one will have you taking flight.

There have been numerous articles written on brainstorming. Too many. In fact the term itself actually bothers me. It implies some sort of magical brain explosion that just plops out when you gather people in a room. But there is magic, creativity and incredible value that can happen when you believe in the power of bringing people together with diverse viewpoints to solve problems.

For many years we employed a fairly standard creative process; AE talks to clients, writes brief with strategists, briefs creative team, and then sells their ideas back to client. There is a sequential and logical fashion to this and it worked swell for the first 40 years of our agency’s history. There were problems lurking beneath the surface, though. It was wasteful, for one; lots of back and forth between teams, rounds of revisions and typically a lot of great creative left on the floor because the account team isn’t behind it. The process created divisions between the account and creative teams and left the account team with no ownership of the creative. The creative teams either became order takers or tyrants depending on whomever had more power in the selection of ideas.

It’s hard to describe the magic that happens when a team loses their inhibitions, trusts each other and works together to solve problems. The results are outstanding; fewer rounds of revisions, more ideas that are on strategy; quicker, ready to market ideas and less obvious, yet more producible results. Teams come together and everyone understands and owns the strategy. It flattens the hierarchy and lets all the talents shine, not just those of a supreme creative leader. The benefits are amazing. We call this process Flight.

Five basic principles for Flight-like thinking. 

  1. Truly believe and embrace the fact everyone is creative. I have heard so many times by folks that are not technically on the creative team that they are not creative—only to see their idea rise to the top and get produced. Leave job descriptions at the door and listen to everyone.
  2. Come prepared. You can’t pick ideas off trees, and you can’t expect ideas on demand. Most people’s brains are working in the background of daily life and by priming the thoughts ahead of time you have planted the seeds of brilliance. Start with sending everyone a pre-read, then have a short 15 minute briefing together before the ideation session begins. And if the ideation is falling flat don’t be afraid to postpone and come back when people have had more time to germinate.
  3.  Define the problem. Really define the real problem. Trying to figure out what you are solving is the most difficult and most important task at hand. Be aware of the obvious and the discreet. Have a robust discussion to talk through all the possible angles.
  4. Make sure your sessions have structure. Start with a warm up exercise and then employ a tool or specific way to get ideas shaped (unless you are utilizing narcotics-which is not recommended). Freestyling can become unpredictable and forces people to go obvious routes.
  5. Create a clear decision process. Decide on the best way to evaluate the ideas as a group and stick to it. Try evaluating wearing different hats. Be open to directions that nobody had envisioned going, and don’t let the most senior or loudest voice in the room have the most votes.

About the Author

Marc Williams
Marc Williams Marc Williams is the president and sole owner of Seattle’s oldest independent advertising agency, Williams Helde Marketing Communications. Marc has extensive experience in branding, marketing and advertising, serving as creative director and now as agency principal. Williams Helde is currently ranked among the top 15 agencies in the Pacific Northwest by revenue according to the Puget Sound Business Journal and focuses on national and global clients. Marc has taught courses at Seattle University within their MBA program and served as Chairman of the Board for the Northwest Entrepreneur Network. As a graduate of Western Washington University, Marc brings a powerful combination of creative insight, brand strategy and design aesthetic to everything he creates.