Seeing red: Brainstorms will fail without better preparation

Creative and strategy sessions often founder on a lack of planning and poor team briefings, says Dissident founder James Thellusson.

James Thellusson: wants an end to negativity in brainstorming
James Thellusson: wants an end to negativity in brainstorming

Is there a phrase more soul-destroying at a brainstorm than "that won’t work"? It’s like the sound of a prison door slamming shut.

It’s one of the things that makes me see red. Along with the ‘sneering CEO’. Or not seeing my idea get written on the whiteboard. But worst of all is the creative director, who uses the gathering to strut his own ideas to the exclusion of all others, making crazy suggestions like he’s Andy Warhol on acid.

Most brainstorms or strategy sessions fail. If shareholders could recoup the time lost on ineffective creative sessions, profitability would rise 15 per cent overnight.

Why do they fail? Sometimes because no real planning is done beforehand or the session is trying to answer the wrong question. Or the orthodoxy factor kicks in. Pressed for time, people default to what they know and what they have done in the past. The last stunt that worked for X gets recycled for Y.

But most creative and strategy sessions fail because people can’t suspend judgement for long enough to let an idea germinate. To work, brainstorms need structure, objectives and a sense of community. You need people to feel confident that they can express an idea in a group without looking like an idiot. For some that may be a challenge but give them a chance. Good creative brainstorms are as much about group dynamics as they are about imagination and intellect.

Success starts with the unorthodox. Brainstorms should be about encouraging everyone to be (a little bit) dissident. The time to decide if an idea is good is after you’ve examined it. And before you go into your next brainstorm remember that in its early glory days Saatchi & Saatchi’s slogan was ‘Nothing is impossible’.

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