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9 Brilliant Brainstorming Tips for Agency Teams

In a creative environment, brainstorming is a great way to kick off a new project. Put several creative people in a room together, give them coffee, felt pens and free reign, and you'll end up with pages of unique (and occasionally useful) ideas. One of those ideas will be the foundation of your entire project – it could transform a client's campaign from mediocre to a stunning success.

But if you're not careful, a brainstorming session can go off track and quickly become a waste of time. It's important to have processes in place to keep ideas flowing and ensure every member of the creative team can contribute.

Here are my top 9 tips for successful brainstorming for a creative team:

1. Assign a Brainstorming Moderator

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Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every brainstorming team needs a moderator to keep the discussion on track. Using a moderator may seem counter-intuitive, since the whole point of a brainstorming session is to generate a free-flowing river of ideas, but discussion can quickly get off track and certain team members can dominate the conversation. A moderator keeps everything running smoothly.

The moderator should be someone who can moderate effectively – i. e. someone who knows the inner workings of the project on hand and who can put the team in line. They need to be able to direct conversation without being confrontational, and encourage a creative, thoughtful atmosphere where those who are quieter feel comfortable speaking up.

2. Set Goals for Your Brainstorming Session

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Image courtesy of njaj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Goals are vital for the success of any creative team – defining goals helps the moderator to direct conversation and reach an end goal. If you begin a brainstorming session without a clear goal in mind, your team will spend hours thinking around in circles with nothing to show for it in the end.

The goals you set should also be SMART. (If you're unfamiliar with the SMART formula, you can read about it here). You can't choose wishy-washy goals like "create an awesome company blog" as that doesn't give anyone a clue what they need to do. "Figure out five ways to improve website content by the end of the session" is a good SMART goal.

3. Record Every Idea, Even the Terrible Ones. ESPECIALLY the Terrible Ones

brainstorming box

Cartoon by Tom Fishburne.

An idea is pretty much useless if it's forgotten. And no matter how far-fetched or pointless an idea seems in the beginning, it might become vital to the project's success later down the track. I've lost track of the number of times I've looked over notes from a brainstorming session only to realise that certain ideas could be combined or a silly idea could be twisted to fit the project perfectly.

I usually ask the moderator to act as the note-taker, and we usually record ideas on a whiteboard (and then photograph it) or on large sheets of A1 paper. All original brainstorming notes are kept in the project file (so they can be accessed at a later date or for a follow-up project).

4. Brainstorm in a Visual Format

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Image courtesy of njaj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For designers, animators and those who think visually, brainstorming can be a great way of generating visual themes and design concepts. Instead of writing words on a whiteboard, you could pin images to a board and move them around in groups to create visual concepts. Hand out lots of scrap paper for your team to draw up ideas as they think them.

Brainstorming visually can help creative thinkers organise thoughts into cohesive concepts. The ability to shift images around and borrow from other team members' visual storyboards promotes a collaborative, vibrant creative atmosphere.

5. Remember, No Idea is a Bad Idea

brainstorming workflowmax

Cartoon by Tom Fishburne.

Brainstorming sessions need to be safe, snark-free spaces where every idea is acknowledged and recorded. The truth is, that often the best ideas come out of a creative team riffing on what was, in the beginning, a terrible idea that never would have worked. Likewise, a group can also spend an hour riffing on a fantastic idea that the client hates.

So don't judge, or let anyone in the group judge, an idea too harshly. If you think an idea is dumb, keep your thoughts to yourself. Just write it down and move on. If someone in the team is being snarky and shooting down ideas, tell them they need to stop doing it or they'll have to sit out of the session. The group will quickly self-select the ideas that are most exciting, as they pick up on the creative flow and start branching concepts off of them.

6. Don't be Afraid to Get Ridiculous

after the brainstorm

Cartoon by Tom Fishburne.

What if you had an entire year to work on this project, instead of two months? What if you had an unlimited budget? What if you could get any celebrity you wanted to be the face of the campaign? Take a walk on the wild side and start embracing more outlandish concepts. Encourage the zany, the wacky and the odd.

Once you've got some unique ideas, get your team to drill down to the core of the idea – what makes this crazy idea so appealing? There are usually aspects of the crazy ideas that can be applied on a smaller scale to make a unique campaign.

8. Use Questions to Drive Creative Thinking

brainstorming workflowmax

Cartoon by Tom Fishburne.

Often, especially in the beginning of a brainstorming session, the ideas being put forth are quite similar. Encourage the team to drift away from this initial thought stream by asking questions, such as, "what other aspects of the client's business can we focus on?" or "In what situations would a customer use this product?"

Asking questions gets your team to focus their thinking in different ways. This means you'll come up with a greater breadth of ideas, which you can then narrow doing into 3-5 quality ideas you can focus on more clearly.

9. Add an Outsider to the Brainstorming Session

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mage courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nothing shakes a creative team up and keeps them on their toes like adding an outsider. It could be the client, or someone from the client's office. It could be a non-creative involved with the project, or someone from your team who isn't usually involved in the creative process. For example, if you usually have a team of designers, add a copywriter or a web developer into the mix to change things up. You could even bring in an end-user – as they'll give you valuable insights on how the campaign could be perceived or the product used.

Conclusion

Brainstorming is essential to the creative process. Creativity needs ideas, and ideas come from the free exploration of threads and concepts in the mind. Brainstorming as a team can be highly effective, as you have several creative people working together and playing off each other.

Use these ideas to guide and drive your brainstorming sessions, but remember that brainstorming is about giving the creative team freedom to explore. Don't create such a rigid atmosphere that you stifle the creative flow. The best way to learn how to run effective brainstorming sessions for the creative team is to get that team brainstorming together, and use their energy to define your own effective practices.

Creatives, what tips can you give for effective team brainstorming?