Tricks to Effective Brainstorming

June 2nd, 2014

In the book Visual Literacy by Richard Wilde, there’s an exercise that I have had our creative department – and other groups (including a group of Boy Scouts recently) – try to tackle. I hand everyone an identical page with five rows of six circles. The challenge? In three minutes, turn as many of the circles as possible into a recognizable object. That’s it. No other rules. Ready, go.

We then compare results. In the case of the Scouts, there were a lot of dumbfounded facial expressions – not uncommon for Scout-aged boys, and several empty pages. With my staff, or with college students to whom I administer the test, it’s interesting to see how many distinctive ideas they come up, versus variations on a theme – you know, balls of different sizes (golf ball, baseball, soccer ball, basketball, etc.) or glasses on multiple faces. Some finish using all the circles on the page in the allotted time limit, some don’t. Some “break” the rules by incorporating several of the circles into one idea. For instance, once Scout used the whole page to illustrate a face with freckles. Pretty inventive, if not lazy.

The trick to success with that single-page test? Spew ideas quickly. Let your mind flow freely. And don’t pause to judge initially. Quantity breeds quality. It’s really no different than creating breakthrough advertising. At times, I’ve written close to 200 headlines before selecting a group of the best, refining them, and then settling on one. Rarely is that final selection from the first 25-50 ideas. That’s the me-too realm of ideation. Already been done. Too easy. Cliches. Dumb word plays. And that’s why a deadline that’s too tight can short-circuit innovative solutions.

But with time to brainstorm effectively and refine mercilessly, innovative advertising results. And that, in turn, can build bottom lines, build companies and build brand loyalty. I’ve seen it happen time and again with my own two eyes. Hey, two eyeballs, now there’s a novel idea for that page of little circles. Not.