The brainstorm hasn’t really changed since it was first introduced in the 1950’s. A group of people get together to find a solution to a problem. They say whatever they want, however silly it may seem and any analytical judgement is reserved for later.
But recently there has been growing criticism of the brainstorm as a method for coming up with fresh and innovative ideas.
The problem is with the way brainstorms are used. They should only ever be part of the creative process. People spouting off the first thing that comes into their head, can reveal how imaginative they are, but it doesn’t show creativity.
All really great creative ideas require the involvement of the unconscious and a group can’t think unconsciously. This is where the ‘I’ in brainstorm comes in.
The brainstorm needs an individual element. One way of getting this is to have less people involved and longer brainstorms.
A perfect example is the writing/creative team. Television scriptwriters often work in teams of two, so do advertising creatives.
They’ll sit together all day trying to think of a great idea. Of course, they won’t be coming up with ideas all the time. But that’s what many people don’t realise; it’s those parts of the day when they get stuck and start to chat about rubbish or make endless cups of tea, that are an important parts of the creative process. That’s when your unconscious is getting to work on the problem.
I would split the creative process into five stages:
Stages 3 and 4 are the unconscious stages of the creative process and can only ever come out of one person’s head. But brainstorms can be of great value for the other stages.
Here’s how they can be used to great effect:
1. Information: To get great ideas don’t think about the solution, think about the problem. Everyone can bring as much information as they can regarding the problem. Pooling this information will make everyone’s ideas stronger. Give people time to think about the problem individually before getting back together as a group.
2. Imagination: Let people come up with as many ideas as they can without judging them. Now this is how the majority of brainstorms are used now. But the whole point of this stage is to feed the various individuals’ unconscious minds. Those crazy ideas should never be expected to be the solution. There just fodder for your unconscious to do its stuff.
5. Implementation: This is the final stage, when someone’s had a great idea, but it needs knocking into shape. This is when a supportive group can nuture the idea and make it as strong as it can be.
For better ideas, always make sure there's an ‘I’ in your brainstorm.