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4 Golden Rules for Successful Content Brainstorms, Courtesy of “The Godfather”

Golden rules for successful content brainstorms, CMIHave you ever been in a content brainstorming session that turns out to be little more than a drizzle — one where you find yourself rehashing the same ideas over and over again and where there are way too many naysayers and too few ”screw-it-let’s-do-it” folks?

We’ve all been there. Brainstorming sessions, when they don’t work, are soul-numbingly frustrating: You feel like you’ve wasted precious time, you’re no closer to achieving your objectives, and you hate the smartass across the table who keeps pointing out — with seemingly great relish — why your ideas will never work.

To achieve successful outcomes from a brainstorming session, you’ll need to apply a few rules — before, during, and after the session. I’ve come to think of these as the Golden Rules That Must Be Respected, because I’ve noticed that any time any of these rules are broken, the result is almost always going to be frustration and fatigue. So, with apologies to “The Godfather,” the following are my personal Golden Rules for successful B2B brainstorming.

Rule 1: Leave “the judge;” bring “the kid”

Choose the members of your brainstorming team carefully. First, keep the team small, probably no larger than 6, so that everyone can contribute. Having too many silent team members can kill the creative spirit in the room.

Taking a leaf from the holy book of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the personality types of people who tend to thrive (and contribute) in brainstorming sessions are Intuitive (N) and Perceiving (P). In my experience, the Judging (J) types can be real downers in a brainstorming party, purely because of their tendency to apply overly-structured thinking and to rush toward judging ideas before they’ve had a chance to really penetrate the brain and spark other ideas. Worse, this type of judgment can kill enthusiasm and discourage anyone from saying anything remotely innovative.

However, I’m not advocating that you become an MBTI Nazi: If you don’t have enough N or P types, you don’t have to pull in starving artists off the street to join your session. All you have to do is to make sure that everyone involved comes into the brainstorm wearing the right kind of hat — one that promotes creative, divergent thinking, instead of seeking to narrow down options. Be prepared to have fun, and remember to say this to yourself: “There are no bad ideas — merely unfinished ones.”

Rule 2: It’s not business, Sonny. It’s strictly creative

So now that you’ve brought the kid (and the cannoli), putting him in a sterile conference room isn’t going to help him really cut loose and bring the big ideas. Creativity is messy and fun, and the environment in which it is intended to generate should be as well.

Throw a whole bunch of bright, cheerful, totally-unrelated magazines (preferably with lots of pictures) onto the table and the floor. Stick weird, funny, or thought- provoking pictures on the wall. Randomize the height of the chairs. Push the table so that it’s off-center. Bring soccer balls, skateboards, noisemakers, and Nerf guns into the room. Tear open bags of chips and Mars Bars – there’s nothing like junk food to stimulate the creative centers in your brain.

Once you’ve set the atmosphere, set your team up to capture any and every idea that comes out. Stick up flip-chart paper all over the room, scatter Post-it notes everywhere, and give the team members lots of pencils and pens. If you write down or sketch out every idea, it will be easier for everyone in the room to “see” it, and you’ll get a fantastic visual record of everything that came out of the session. And never throw away those charts — they’ll serve as great memory joggers later on, and may even help to spark ideas for different projects.

Rule 3: When it comes to ideas, go “to the mattresses”

A brainstorming session is meant to produce ideas. Lots of ideas. It’s not meant to produce the perfect idea, and it’s definitely not meant to “crack the brief.” There will be time later to cluster the ideas into big groups, and to start applying your inner ruthless judge. But that time isn’t during the brainstorm.

If you’re the facilitator, keep the energy high. Encourage everyone to come up with as many ideas as possible: crazy or otherwise. Get the team to hit a target of 20 or 30 ideas — the reason I advocate this large number comes down to the 90–10 rule: 10 ideas will probably result in one workable idea at the end of the day. If you need to present three ideas to the client, you’re looking at a base of 30 ideas that need to come from the session.

Rule 4: If anything in this life is certain, it’s that anyone can be creative

Brainstorming doesn’t stop the moment the ”official” session stops. The best ideas may not necessarily come from the session itself; they may suddenly leap into your consciousness while you’re about to go to bed, or when you’re talking to your colleagues about last night’s movie. That doesn’t mean your session has failed; it only means that brainstorming — like being a good person — is not something you should do only during prescribed hours. Great brainstorming sessions can act as a catalyst for breaking up the crud that’s blocking up your creative ability.

I pledge my never-ending guarantee that the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

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