How to run a brainstorm meeting

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

“Creativity is intelligence having fun”  Albert Einstein

Brainstorming should be a regular part of running your Brand.

To stay in a healthy creative space, I would suggest that each brand team should be having some type of brainstorm (big or small) once a month. You need a constant influx of ideas–promotions, advertising, social media, naming, new products, events, PR, saving money, and of course as part of your brand planning. They can be a quick 30 minutes as part of a weekly meeting just to get some quick ideas or a whole afternoon to solve a problem that’s been nagging at the group. Or a team-building offsite meeting that goes all day. 

There are advantages to having regular brainstorms:

  • The team will stay fresh and open. Brand jobs can eat you up, forecasting, deadlines, reports can all make you stale. Having regular intervals of ideation helps to disrupt the workflow to motivate and engage the team.
  • Keeps the best ideas near the surface. At the end of a good brainstorm, you have some great ideas that bubble up, not all of which you can immediately use. These ideas tend to keep coming up, and that’s OK. Sometimes they are rejected because they are higher risk or resource-dependent. But after a few sessions of getting comfortable with these ideas, you might start to see new ways to make them do-able instead of seeing why they can’t happen.
  • As the Leader of the team, it sends the message that while we are strategic, we win by being more creative, faster, and better on execution. It’s so easy to get stiffer as you move up the career ladder and be the one on the team finding fault with every idea. Just because you are starting to know right from wrong, doesn’t mean you need to crush every idea. Having the brainstorming forum allows the newly experienced brand people the chance to bring ideas forward and it sends the signal that you are an open leader and you value the opinions of your junior staff.
  • The process the team learns doing the brainstorms becomes part of their everyday job. Even on small problems, they’ll come up with a list of possible solutions, use some criteria to judge, narrow down the list to the best idea, and then be prepared with their recommendation. They’ll be able to show their leader they’ve looked at the issue from all sides, and considered other ideas. Marketers that fixate on one solution to fix the problem tend to fail more than succeed.

The warm-up

Every session should have a warm-up, either 5 minutes or 15 minutes. It gets people out of the rut of the day-to-day and opens up the brains. One that I’ve used is this very simple innocent photo of the kids selling Lemonade and ask them to come up with as many ideas as they can to the question of “What ways can these two make more money?”. I offer a reward of cookies to the team with the most ideas and to the best idea. In 5 minutes, teams should be able to list 50 or 100 ideas. Gets out of a lot of crap ideas but it gets rid of them rejecting ideas before saying them. To get to 100, you have to listen to the group and build on someone’s idea. Eliminate the “yeah but….” I get them to circle the top 3 ideas for each group, which forces them to get used to making decisions. One observation I’ll usually make is that the best ideas are usually found in the list beyond 20 or even beyond the 50 mark, emphasizing that you need 100 good ideas to get to 5 great ideas.

Draw out the rule that “AVOID THE YEAH BUT…” because we have a process for ideating and one for making decisions. With a bunch of leaders in the room, normally you have to reassure them that they should trust the process. The alternative to the “yeah but” is building on the idea with “here’s a different take”.

The trick to a good brainstorm is very simple: Diverge, Converge, Diverge Converge.

Diverge #1:

Divide the room up into groups of 5-7 people. I prefer to assign one leader who will be writing the ideas, pushing the group for more, throwing in some ideas of their own. A great way for the leader is to say “here’s a crazy idea, who can build on this or make it better”. But if you catch the leader stalling, debating the ideas, then you should push that leader. At this stage, you are pushing for the quantity, not quality. If you have multiple groups in the room, do a rotation where the leader stays put and the group changes. I like having stations, where each station has a unique problem to solve.

Converge #1:

There are a few ways you can do this.

  • You can use voting dots where each person gets 5 or 10 dots and they can use them any way they want. For random executional ideas, this is a great simple way.
  • If there is agreed-upon criteria, you can do some type of scoring against each criteria. High, medium, low.
  • If you are brainstorming product concepts or positioning statements, you might want to hold them up to the lens of how unique they are.
  • For things like naming, positioning, or promotions, the leader can look at all the ideas and begin grouping them into themes. They might start to discuss which themes seem to fit or are working the best, and use those themes for a second diverge.
  • For Tactics to an annual plan, you can use a very simple grid of Big vs Small and Easy vs Difficult. In this case, you want to find ways to land in THE BIG EASY. The reason you want easy is to ensure it has a good return on effort, believing effort and investment have a direct link.  


Diverge #2

The second diverge is where the magic actually happens. You’ve got the group in a good zone. They have seen which ideas are meeting the criteria. Take the list from Converge #1 and push it one more time. Make it competitive among the groups, with a $25 prize, so that people will push even harder.  

  • If you narrowed it to themes, then take each theme and push for more and better ideas under each of the themes  
  • If you looked at concepts or tactics, then take the best 8-10 ideas and have groups work on them and flush them out fully with a written concept, and come back and present them to the group.  
  • If using the grid above, then take the ideas in the big/difficult and brainstorm ways to make it easier. And if it’s small and easy, brainstorm ways to make it bigger.

Converge #2: Decision Time

Once you’ve done the second diverge, you’ll be starting to see the ideas getting better and more focused. Now comes decision time. You can narrow down to a list of ideas to take forward into testing or discussion with senior management. You can take them forward to cost out. You can prioritize them based on a 12 or 24-month calendar. You can vote using some of the techniques above using voting dots. Or you can assign a panel of those who will vote. But you want to walk away from the meeting with a decision.

Turn the idea into a project

Trust that the process gets you into the right zone and make these ideas now a project. Once you have a decision on the best ideas, you want to use the energy and momentum in the room to make the ideas a reality:

  • assign an owner and support team
  • get them to agree upon goals, issues to resolve
  • get them to map out a timeline (milestones)
  • outline potential resource needs (budget, people, outside agencies)

Let brainstorming bring energy and passion into your work.

“Love what you do” Steve Jobs