The Art of the Brainstorm

November’s Professional Development event featured Cher Fuller, Senior Digital Strategist at eROI. She (and her adorable pug Lucy!) came to speak about brainstorming within marketing teams. An insightful marketing discussion that involves a pug – what’s not to love about that!


Why is traditional brainstorming so ineffective?

When we think of brainstorming, we think of a bunch of people sitting around in a circle talking about ideas. This is a nice picture. It makes us think of growth and of new ideas flowing in.

But the truth is that brainstorming in this traditional sense is largely ineffective. Team members can suffer from evaluation anxiety, or a fear of being judged for their ideas. If you’re afraid of being judged, why would you share an idea that may be risky or that pushes boundaries?

Another culprit of ineffective brainstorming is social loafing. People tend to put in less effort when it comes to group projects because of the assumption that the others within the team will pick up the slack. Not the best strategy for an effective team!

What happens when great ideas come out of a brainstorming session, but they’re only coming from one person? Then you have a case of production blocking, and that’s not good news. It strikes at a question at the heart of brainstorming: Is it true collaboration? The answer is no, but that doesn’t mean everyone can’t participate within it.

What makes an effective brainstorming session?

To brainstorm effectively, you first need to be sure that it is the correct solution for coming up with fresh ideas for your team. Brainstorming is only one way of coming up with new ideas. Ask your team if they are open to the idea!

Effective communication sometimes involves letting go of traditional ideas about communication. Let your employees riff on ideas. Let them go on tangents, if that is what creates unconventional ideas!

Suggested techniques for a successful brainstorm

Homework Brainstorm

This is where you give your team members homework or ideas to work on prior to coming into a brainstorm meeting. Team members can answer such questions as “What is the biggest challenge we face with [Company] right now?” or “What are a few things you’d like us to do with [Company] this year?”

Assigning homework to team members beforehand helps provide base of ideas ready to talk about so that the brainstorm starts off productive.

This technique is best for “reliable teams that you can count on doing the prep work for ahead of time. Most participants should have a working knowledge of the product/brand/problem.”

Written Brainstorm

Allow team members an allotted amount of time — ten minutes or so — to write their thoughts down about a brainstorm topic/question at hand. No talking allowed during this time! “Brainstorms tend to be controlled by the quickest speakers/thinkers, so [a written brainstorm] is a good way to include everyone.”

This technique can generate A LOT of ideas, and works well for concepting, taglines or anything that has a singular output. It is also great for teams with members who may be less quick thinking or outgoing. Avoid a written brainstorm for broad topics, or to generate ideas from riffing.

Bonus Tip: Change it up!

“Get outside, play musical chairs, sit on the floor, take a walk.” Mix up your team’s environment during a brainstorm to spark creativity.

Above all, make sure that there is an environment of trust within the team itself. Allow people with different experiences and backgrounds to contribute to the brainstorming session. Create an environment of trust so that new ideas can be submitted without fear of judgment. When everyone feels free to submit ideas, everyone benefits.

Cher Fuller can be reached on Twitter at @CherFuller and on Instagram at @CherFuller. Learn about future AMA events here.

Written By Brit McGinnis

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