Life as an 'ideas person' can seem glamorous to an outsider. “Oh, them,” many say, “…they just sit around on their butts all day, blurting out ideas. I heard they do drugs and don’t floss their teeth.”
Such a point of view, while reasonably common, is ridiculously inaccurate (for reasons beyond erroneous claims of narcotic use and poor dental hygiene). Being a conceptual creative is stressful and mentally taxing. Deadlines loom large and implacable, and don’t care very much if your brain has decided to stop working. You need to be smart and creative on command, and still have whatever you produce sacrificed on the altar of subjective good taste.
Whining about all of this, however, is ultimately of little help. Part of the trick of the job is developing practical, pragmatic methods of trying to make brainstorming as painless and fruitful as humanly possible.
Let’s take a look at a few things I’ve learned.
1. Too Many Cooks...
Large group brainstorms can be extremely counter-productive. They have specific utility in specific circumstances and should only be used in those circumstances. Big idea thinking requires concerted, extended focus, manipulating and moulding a concept to the nuances of a brief’s requirements. Too many brains, with too many thoughts, pulling in too many different directions, can impede progress. Ideally, developing a concept should have a dedicated team of 2 to 3 people.
Brainstorms with bigger groups should be reserved for instances where 'ideation' or 'spitballing' sessions are valuable, where a sheer volume of ideas is helpful – e.g. coming up with a product name. Similarly, they can be extremely beneficial when you’ve come to a dead-end in your thinking. New minds will bring new ideas – they won’t necessarily crack the brief, but they can spark new thinking.
2. Get Out. Now!
A desk is no place for creativity, or at least the sort of creativity required for producing a badass campaign premise. In the realm of dreaming up dementedly different ideas, pen and paper are a far more valuable currency than computer screens, and free-form discussions, a more valuable commodity than e-mails or meetings. Desks and boardroom tables tie you to routine and convention – the last thing in the world you want associated with your ideas.
Get away from it all and give yourself the space to think. Your colleagues will also appreciate it more than a boisterous ideas trade in the middle of the production floor.
3. Don’t Fear The Nonsense
Everybody’s been there. You’ve been trying to solve a brief for a few hours and find yourself grasping at straws. You begin a conversation that is horribly off-topic or offer up patently absurd solutions in a desperate bid to cling on to your sanity. Don’t fight this. Just go with it. You’re not wasting time; you’re giving your subconscious a chance to marinate on, and to wrestle with, the task at hand. The conversation will inevitably organically come back around to a better approach to the brief. It’s the cognitive second cousin of 'sleeping on it'.
Of course, this doesn’t give you free reign to bugger around for hours on end and forget you have a job to do. Luckily, a nice, stiff, unmoveable deadline tends to keep you well aware of the fact.
4. Ration Out Your Crazy
If, in some strange alternative universe, you were given two weeks to 'blue-sky' a brief with a budget that would make your nose bleed, it’s your responsibility to sprint so far out of the box that it fades gradually beyond the horizon. It’s a professional requirement that you push the boundaries of expectation and convention.
If you insist on trying to do the same for a pro bono e-mailer, you’re just being an idiot. Use logic and reason to assess the requirements of a brief before you even begin brainstorming. Ask yourself: What is the flavour of the solution required? Do we need smart and technical, or simple and elegant? Do we need to wow with thinking or with eye-candy?
Know your client. Know their objectives. Assess the brief’s restrictions. Use these to build parameters for developing your concept.
5. Don’t Read Lists You Find Online
Just kidding. But the point here is that there’s no sure-fire formula for good work. Even the greats churn out some duds. These points are all designed to inculcate a healthy balance of pragmatism and creativity, an understanding of what’s good, what’s possible and what a good idea feels like. These form the bedrock of good creative thinking.
Can you add to the list? What are your personal tips on productive brainstorming and better idea generation? Let us know in the 'Make a comment' block below.