I’ve been involved with several brainstorming sessions recently. I’m not convinced they work, because people’s brains are too big.
The idea is that everyone can say anything, and that by doing so, we give the session handler lots of ideas to sift through. But I think people find this intimidating. They go blank. They get scared. It’s the equivalent of the copywriter’s nightmare brief: I want you to say anything, about anything, anytime. Given that the human brain has from 10 billion to 100 billion neurons, suddenly everything, about everything, kicks in. It’s too much.
Parameters need to be set. The book Creativity in PR gives a great example of the creativity continuum: think of the most ridiculous thing you could do, and the most conservative. Between those two extremes, your answer lies.
So, let’s take an example. Let’s imagine we’re promoting, oh I don’t know, pluck something out of the air, desks. Wooden desks. A company produces wooden desks and wants coverage. Its messaging is that its desks are sturdy which gives them longevity.
What’s the most ridiculous thing we can think of? Put an elephant on one – really, an actual elephant – and see if the desk holds up. Make it a pink elephant. Paint that elephant pink. Put a tutu on it. Do it in Hyde Park at rush hour. Employ a ringmaster to shout about it. Metro would love it.
The least ridiculous? The most mainstream? An expert opinion on how important it is for a desk to be leanworthy. Because you don’t just use a desk to work on. You lean on it. I bet you’re leaning on your desk right now reading this. Metro might like that. Heck, even Horizon might feature it nowadays.
They could both work, but the former pushes the envelope – and, needless to say, the elephant – and is probably not right for a stolid desk manufacturer. The latter might get some coverage but is really quite dull.
So we can now operate somewhere between a be-tutued pink elephant in Hyde Park, and an expert in a broom cupboard with a comb-over commenting on desk sturdiness. Suddenly, people have an area in which to operate. They know what they’re trying to achieve, and the limits – yes, limits, even though it’s brainstorming – within which to operate.
I’m going to try this in my next brainstorming session. As soon as I see those eyes glaze over in panic, I’m going to set the extremes. People may look at me as if I’m a nutter, but that wouldn’t be for the first time.
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