How do you come up with your ideas? What’s your creative process? Where do you find your inspiration? Everyone from our clients and our peers to our own mothers has asked some variation of this question.
However, there are a few tried-and-true guidelines we use to help us get the creative juices flowing:
Step 1: Do your initial thinking alone.
If you’ve ever participated in a group brainstorming session, you might have noticed a common theme or idea emerge. This can be a good thing. You want the opportunity to explore strong ideas. But as your coworkers share their thoughts, it can affect the thinking of everyone in the group. It may spark new ideas, but also it has the tendency to cause everyone to think more similarly about the problem than they would if they were working alone.
Before a group brainstorming session, it’s always a good idea to jot down some ideas on your own. Early on in the process, you’ll want as many different perspectives as possible informing your ideas – so give your team time to think about the problem and come up with a list of solutions before the initial brainstorming meeting.
Step 2: Throw something up on the wall.
At this stage, you don’t want to be precious with your ideas. The goal is quantity, not quality. Leave no stone unturned and no brain untapped. Brainstorming is all about exploring the possibilities for a project. When you filter out the not-so-good – or silly, or profane – ideas from the ones you think will work, it hinders the process by limiting your choices.
“It’s easier to start with a crazy idea and make it workable, than to start with a workable idea and make it crazy. When brainstorming, try to connect the most disparate ideas together. If you can find the glue to make them work, you have the beginning of a great idea.” – Dan O’Brien, inferno
Our favorite brainstorming method is to block out a conference room and literally throw ideas up on the wall – either on the whiteboard or via a post-it mural. There’s no telling which ideas will stick and which will spark another (or a new) idea down the line.
Step 3: Narrow your focus.
Whenever our creative team participates in a brainstorming session, we make a point to cull down the list of ideas to ones we will seriously investigate right away. It’s helpful for the team to come away knowing exactly how many viable options we have, so we know whether more brainstorming sessions are warranted.
We always leave some time at the end of our meetings to go through the list of ideas and consider whether they will work for the project. Then, we have our team explore ideas that look promising and develop an initial outline of how they might apply to the project.
Step 4: Follow up with the team.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with brainstorming is assuming the process is done after the initial meeting. Sometimes, the initial conversation produces lackluster results. Other times, the ideas that looked promising don’t actually work for the project at hand.
We like to regroup with the team to review fleshed-out ideas from the first session and to explore new ones. Often, our best ideas are born from that second discussion.
Keep an open mind, and keep the ideas flowing!