Even when participants are not being paid by the hour, meetings are costly: Notwithstanding smart-phones, no one around the table is really doing something else, at least not with an undivided focus. A poorly planned or run meeting wastes everybody’s time, not just yours.
A meeting called for the purpose of brainstorming is a weird thing. There is an agenda, but nothing’s really on it … except be thoughtful, and be creative, and be that way *right now*.
Hootsuite’s James Mulvey writes that business-marketing teams – I would add academic departments as well – can brainstorm more effectively by applying techniques used by writers of television comedy. He quotes his Hootsuite colleague Liam MacLeod – who is also a comedy writer: “The biggest mistake most marketing brainstorms make is that people don’t listen to each other. Everyone is talking at once and trying to get their idea heard. In most marketing brainstorms there’s a lot of noise and not a lot of actual thinking.”
MacLeod a his co-writers divide their writing sessions into three stages:
- Silence and thinking
- Sharing ideas
The thinking period in a comedy brainstorm begins with a writing prompt and two minutes of silence, explains MacLeod: “For us, when we’re writing a script, when we’re coming up with the idea for an episode or a scene, we like to start with a keyword like ‘restaurant’ or ‘first date.’ This is the writing prompt.
“We then set a timer for two minutes and all sit in silence, thinking on that prompt. The timer, we find, is really useful in giving everyone a set amount of time to think.”
When the timer rings, one person goes through their list of ideas. The majority of the ideas at this stage are mediocre. But going around the room one-by-one ensures everyone has a chance to be heard and that everyone is listening to one another.
“In your typical company brainstorm, there’s pressure to perform. Especially at ad agencies—everyone wants to be seen as someone who can come up with ideas. So often the loudest voices end up on the whiteboard,” says MacLeod.
“We find that by the time we go around the room, new ideas are starting to form. For example, you might have meant one thing—but it sparked a different direction for me. So you’re getting a new synthesis of all those initial ideas. This is where you break into more creative ideas.”
Once everyone in the room has had a chance to share their ideas, the brainstorm enters the collaborative phase. “It’s speed thinking at this point,” says MacLeod. “A lot of ideas are going to be dumb. But you need that quantity. I’d rather leave a brainstorm with 20 ideas rather than three or four.”
Sorting the good from the mediocre is simple: “Typically, if you say something and everyone in the group starts to add things and run with the idea, it’s usually original. Those are the moments you need to look for. Even if it is a stupid idea, but gets people talking and laughing together—that’s what you want to look for. This is why listening is important. You want the group to take an idea and add to it and get the group thinking together.”
The whole post is really helpful, with a step-by-step ‘recipe’ at the end. It’s a good use of your time.