One of the most important parts of the creative process is brainstorming. Some of us like to do it alone, some prefer to collaborate with others, and some enjoy a combination of both. Normally, here’s how this scene goes:
Step 1: Your team gets in a room and starts jotting down lots of ideas.
Step 2. You narrow it down to the few choices that stand out or make the most sense.
Step 3. You choose the “best” idea and conclude this a “successful” brainstorming session.
Sounds familiar, right? Most of us experience this process so often in all aspects of our lives that it’s second nature. In fact, we’re so used to it that we frequently forget to do anything more than the bare minimum to get to that golden idea. Once we find something that clicks and everyone nods their head in agreement, we pat ourselves on the back and call it a day. What would happen if we pushed a little deeper? What if we did one pass of brainstorming, then completely scrapped it and started over (or at least picked a few favorite ideas and kept going)?
It sounds like a lot of work – and it can be – but the results can be remarkable. The first ideas that come to mind are usually the obvious ones. They may be good thoughts, but they’re probably the ones that anyone could think of. The ones that have been done before. The ones your client is paying you to get *past*. When you flush out all the easy answers and keep digging deeper, you get to the real meat – the ideas that are original, memorable, and differentiate you from everyone else who settled at Step 3.
For example, let’s say we’re playing Name 10 Things, a favorite Forty game. In this improv exercise, someone gives you a topic, and you have to name ten things about that topic as quickly as you can. There are no wrong answers, so your goal is to get through the list ASAP without worrying about being embarrassed or having the correct response. If my challenge was “Name 10 things that are awesome about the beach,” my answers may look something like this:
1. Getting a tan
2. Feeling the sand in my toes
3. Swimming in the waves
5. Building sand castles
6. People watching
7. Playing crazy games of frisbee with the dog
8. Burying people in the sand
9. Using my metal detector to find buried treasures
10. Watching lifeguards reenact Baywatch
When we name ten things, the most interesting answers typically don’t reveal themselves until the last three or four items.
We employ this “reach deeper” brainstorming philosophy in our work and have found that some of the best ideas are the ones that come up after we’ve exhausted all our options. In fact, we’ll often walk away from a long brainstorming session and come back the next day to rest our minds, digest some of the ideas, and come back with a clear head.
Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results.” Doing the same old brainstorming may yield an amazing idea once in a while, but more often than not, it’s just going to produce mediocre results for your client. However, when you spice up your routine and push past the obvious, you just might blow them away.