A brainstorm is a meeting like any other, which means an agenda can be extremely helpful to keep order and focus. Give yourself a few minutes to think through in advance how you want to spend the time. This is especially true if you’re using a facilitator. If you do, you can relax and participate in the brainstorm without trying to control the flow at the same time.
Here’s a basic brainstorm agenda that you can adapt to suit your needs, location, participants or brainstorm topic. The clock timings starting at 9.00 am are used simply to show order.
In Advance of the Brainstorm
- Work with your team to prepare a creative brief. (See the related post on 5 June 2009.)
- If possible, try to share the brief with one of the brainstormers in advance to see if they have any suggestions which the writing team might have overlooked. It also saves you time at the beginning of the brainstorm answering questions which should have been in the brief in the first place.
- Distribute the brief at least one day in advance to your brainstorm participants.
Is this you? “But no one reads the brief in advance!” See far below for suggestions.
9.00 am – 10 Minutes
- Define the problem
- Review the creative rules (See related post: Creative Rules for Brainstorms)
- Quickly answer any questions from your participants, but don’t waste time re-reading your brief. (That’s why you sent the brief in advance.)
9.10 am – 10 Minutes
- Lead with a creative jump-start to get people to warm up their imagination. Link the ice-breaker to your brainstorm topic or issue.
See below for suggestions on icebreakers and homework for the participants.
9.20 am – 30-45 Minutes
- Move directly from the jump-start to brainstorming ideas. Often this happens naturally.
- As the idea generation slows, use creative exercises to keep the momentum going. Use the exercise for as long as it’s helpful, then discard and try another.
10.00+ am 15-20 Minutes
- Reveal the idea criteria to the participants and quickly explain.
- Ask the participants to select the best ideas.
- At the same time, ask people to help cluster similar ideas together. And/or, build on ideas you like but which aren’t yet a ‘complete’ idea.
- Brainstorm further, if you have both time and the participants’ energy.
- Finish by thanking everyone for their help and participation.
Icebreakers and ‘Homework’
An icebreaker is an engaging and fun game to get the participants’ creativity inspired before you launch into the ‘meat’ of the brainstorm. Some facilitators like crazy games for craziness’ sake, others prefer games which deliberately springboard into the brainstorm topic or issue. Or, you might ask everyone to do some simple pre-brainstorm homework, then use everyone’s responses as the icebreaker. Any of the these can work – but use something. Don’t immediately jump into idea generation. The human brain is like a car in winter: you need to let it warm up to allow it to work properly.
Here’s two examples.
When we conducted a brainstorm to promote a new toothpaste, we asked the participants to brush their teeth with the new product before the brainstorm began – and then immediately record 10 adjectives they felt their mouth might say if we could ask it directly in a focus group. One of the participants said: “the colour of white” – which became the campaign theme for the award-winning program.
For a brainstorm to increase consumption of orange juice, we gave everyone a sample box of the beverage. The next morning, we asked them to record all of their morning activities – before, during and after drinking orange juice. When we began the brainstorm, we asked everyone to share their responses. One person said they drank their juice while doing the morning crossword puzzle – which led to the idea of sponsoring the national crossword puzzle championships.
“But people’s don’t read the brief in advance!”
No, they often don’t – and usually with good reason. Here’s a few tips specific to this problem.
- Make the brief brief – not too complex or too long to read quickly.
- If time is limited between distribution and brainstorm, highlight key sections of the brief. As my Grandma Eklund used to say: Give them just enough information to be dangerous.
- Deliver the brief in person. People don’t read something by e-mail just because you sent it to them.
- If it’s obvious that most people have not read the brief in advance, give everyone just 3-4 minutes to speed-read it.
- Return the respect and courtesy when someone asks you to read a brief in advance.
Personally, I’ve always loved this “brainstorm mandatory” used (allegedly) by Proctor & Gamble’s innovation unit: “Arrive on time with your homework done.”
P.S. If you like the artwork, please visit Angela Hayden’s website. You can buy this poster in English and other languages, plus she has a lot of other great creative stuff.