I really don’t think there is a person out there, no matter how talented that is able to produce great ideas all the time. I know this is true for me. Sometimes the ideas are flowing like water and other times not so much or frankly not at all!
As a product designer, I have planned and run many brainstorm sessions. Brainstorming is an essential part of most product development processes. And I believe that the brainstorming process can be utilized in almost any creative endeavor including blogging.
What brainstorming is and is not…
Brainstorming is a method for generation a large quantity of ideas in a short amount of time. It is not to be confused with a “problem-solving” session where quality takes precedence over quantity.
How to start? Make a plan…
- Define you goal. You want to write down your goal in the clearest most concise terms possible on a big sheet of paper and tape it to the wall. A couple examples might be… I want to come up with a list of “back pocket” ideas for post topics or I want to come up with 100 ideas for a new blog banner that defines ME.
- Invite a few creative friends and/or family members you know will be enthusiastic about participating. I find when you ask people for help they generally want to help and even get excited about it!
- Gather supplies including markers, flip-chart paper, and Post-Its. I like Post-It flip-chart paper which is like giant Post-It notes that you can attach right to the wall and I like the larger 3 X 5 Post-It notes in assorted colors for individual ideas although you are of course welcome to improvise just make sure you have lots of paper and a way to hang it up for everyone to see.
- Set up a space for the event with comfortable seating and soft lighting (a living-room or den is perfect – at work we would go through a lot of trouble TRYING to turn a conference room into a living-room.
- Set out snacks and objects to fidget with like Silly Putty, a Slinky, a Hoberman Sphere, or raid your kids’ toy box. These things can help keep people from becoming distracted, zoning out, or veering off topic.
- Have a clear start and stop time. Brainstorms do not need to be any longer than an hour. You want to get lots of ideas in a short amount of time. I find the energy level starts to wane after that.
This is very important! Review the brainstorming rules with the group…
- Every idea is a good idea; a brainstorm should be a nonjudgmental place. Do not laugh at, joke, or criticize “bad” ideas. If people feel safe they will feel more comfortable participating. And honestly these “bad” ideas could end up leading to something really innovative.
- Remind everyone you are looking for quantity not quality. Tell them not to hesitate. If they have an idea that seems ridiculous tell them to say it anyway. An example might be, “You could give away a car as a holiday promotion”. It’s probably not realistic unless you are Oprah but add it because someone might build on it and who knows!
- Head-line your ideas; this means to communicate an idea quickly and not over explain (lots of ideas quickly is the goal). Here’s an example of what not to do. “I know you like craft projects and with the holidays coming up, maybe you could draw some shapes and scan them so that people could download them and…” Here is the same idea in a headline. “Downloadable holiday craft templates”.
Next briefly explain your goals for the session. It should be as simple a reading the statement on your flip-chart. “I want to come up with a BUNCH of ideas for things I can give away for free on my blog.” You might have to answer a couple questions but then just jump in!
Time to get creative!
A great way to start is to just get out all the obvious ideas. You should stand at the flip chart and capture the ideas as people call them out or have people jot down their ideas on the Post-Its (they should also say the idea out-loud) and quickly get them up for all to see and reference. Remember too, this should be a fast moving high-energy process! A little tip… I often come up with a handful of ideas to be able to add if there is a lull or people are having trouble getting started and remember to make some of them “bad”!
As you feel the energy slipping try some different techniques. Here are a few…
- You can circle some of the more umbrella like ideas and use them as sub-topics to brainstorm within (for example templates could be one, another might be checklists, or contests).
- You can break up into 2 or 3 pairs and assign a goal of 20 ideas in 10 minutes.
- Or ask everyone to select an idea from the list and build on it, come up with a new idea inspired by it, or create an idea which is opposite to it.
After the hour thank everyone and end the session while everyone is still having fun.
After the brainstorm session collect the flip chart-paper and Post-Its. You can now start documenting and prioritizing the ideas. There should be some that you can start working on at once for example “downloadable holiday templates”. There should also be a few that have potential be require further thought and development like the “car sweepstakes”.
I know one of the draws of blogging for me is the solitary nature of the process and not really answering to anyone. Having a group blurt out ideas about your “baby” may be well out of your comfort zone but actually that’s the point! It’s when you are uncomfortable that breakthroughs can occur. Try it and then send everyone away and get back to your solitary work and I promise you will be re-energized! Good luck and I would love your feedback on this post!