The Real Secret to Having Amazing Brainstorming Sessions


Remember rule #1 in Fight Club?

Don’t talk about Fight Club.

Remember rule #2?

Yeah, it was the exact same thing.

When it comes to the rules of brainstorming everyone seems to have their own thoughts and opinions on how it should work. They have their own personal rules and everyone has their own bag of hacks that make their brainstorming sessions special. I’m hear to share some of my own secrets and by all means, feel free to share.

A lot of people don’t realize the power of a well run brainstorming session. A good brainstorming session can lead to some of the greatest ideas and concepts for your clients, your business or even for your blog. Brainstorming is a great way to get the creative juices flowing and really start making some magic happen.

I’ve always been a fan of brainstorming and over the last few years I’ve had the privilege to host a lot of them. Whether it’s coming up with the next digital campaign for a client or working out the user experience for my own start-up – brainstorming is a great way to find something great. While working in the advertising industry I’ve quickly found that the best advertising professionals know how to facilitate a brainstorming session.

When I’m working on developing an idea with a great team I have a few basics I like to keep in mind when running a session. Once in a while I’ll even write these items out on the board to make sure the rules are obvious and fully followed. Some people call me a stickler when it comes to these sessions and I don’t mind it. This approach works for me and it definitely will work for you.

Guide to Awesome Brainstorming Sessions

Rule #1: No Criticism

The first thing that needs to happen is laying a groundwork to let everyone know that this isn’t an episode of Judge Judy. No judgement should be made on anyone’s ideas over the course of a brainstorm. That’s right, all judgement needs to be removed and excluded. In doing this, people who have over the top personalities are immediately put in check and don’t take shots at other peoples ideas because of their own ego. If they do, they get removed – Simple as that.

When brainstorming is taking place, the concept of a hierarchy needs to be ignored and all ideas embraced. If you allow the title of someone to determine the outcome of your brainstorming session you will find one person driving the entire group instead of the group driving itself. If this doesn’t take place your brainstorming session is immediately tarnished.

In groups where you have the opportunity to be judged, you will find that many are unwilling to share their ideas. People in the brainstorming session will not be willing to share their ideas with the group because they fear how they will look in front of the CEO or Creative Director.

This happens all the time.

It happens because in a brainstorming session people believe it’s easier to live with themselves if they have no ideas rather than bad ones. Thus, it’s important to break this notion of judgement early on and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas without being judged.

Rule #2: Embrace the Crazy Ones

Steve Jobs | Here's to the Crazy Ones | The Misfits

Do you always come up the crazy ideas to be met with people scratching their heads?

If so, great – the world needs more you’s. When it comes to creativity and cracking those brilliant ideas, it’s often the ones who are crazy who crack them. The people who think so far outside of the box that they need to be eventually brought back down to earth.

The ones who have the ideas that are most ridiculous are usually the ones who crack brilliance so don’t kill their idea. If they are in the middle of something and you see nothing but red flags – Keep your flag in your pocket and let them continue for a bit. Inside their madness might be beauty.

This is something that many people struggle with because they already have a such a deep “understanding” of the problem. They take an approach that immediately filters out any concept that isn’t aligned with what they think is the right approach.

They hinder creativity and put a shackle on ideas that could have been gold. All of us need to embrace the crazy ideas and start running with them. Ignore things we know about the client like they don’t like this shade of red or they aren’t fans of Twitter. Just because you think it’s crazy or that the client wont like it doesn’t mean you’re right. Embrace it, add fuel to it and see if it catches.

Keep in mind. It’s harder to turn a simple idea into something great than a great idea into something simple.

Rule #3: Remember Quantity over Quality

What’s rule #1? Forgot?

No Judgement.

That should make this rule easy for you because if you dont pass judgement you wont see quality. The removal of judgement doesn’t allow you to make a decision around whether or not a specific idea is of high or low quality. Furthermore, you wont see bad ideas and good ideas you’ll just see a variety of different ideas that can lead to something magical. That’s the key. Look at  your ideas the same way Tiger looked at his relationships – Quantity over Quality.

At the end of it all, the more ideas you have – The more opportunities to crack greatness. It’s the same concept as any sport. If your team shoots the ball more times than the other – You have a better chance to win the game.

Rule #4: Embrace Visual Elements

We’re visual creatures by nature.

It’s why they give us colouring books when we’re kids and it’s why millions of people love Instagram. The fact that humans connect so deeply with visuals should inspire you to embrace the value that comes with visual brainstorming. Whether you’re drawing on a white board or using digital templates to bring your visual brainstorm techniques to life — it’s important to understand and embrace some of the many techniques that exist:

  • Flowcharts
  • Mind Maps
  • Fishbone Diagrams
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Starbursting
  • Affinity Diagrams
  • Concept Maps

Those are just a few of the many techniques that can be leveraged to conduct quality brainstorming.

Rule #5: Build On The Momentum

Brainstorming Tactics | Techniques | Strategies

Momentum in an idea is when it starts off as a snowball but ends up like a snowman. That’s when the magic happens. It’s when your group comes together and continues to build and build and build on an already solid idea to create something beautiful. When someone has a great idea or at least something that is a solid foundation – Embrace it. Don’t just throw in your own 2-cents about some other idea… Be present and focus on the idea on the table. Let that idea mature a bit and help take it somewhere amazing.

One of the biggest issues with brainstorms is when someone feels they have a great idea and it needs to be shared. They jump into a conversation and cut off already bright ideas just to share theirs because they feel it’s better. Don’t be that guy. Instead take a pen and paper or the notes app on your phone and write it down for later. For now, focus on the idea at hand and work on building it into something great.

Do you have any rules that you tend to follow for brainstorming? Do you think brainstorming is a waste of time? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! If you want to talk off the record we can do that too – Give me a shout here.