Brainstorming is one of my favorite parts of marketing. I love the aha moments just as much as the moments where you realize what you just said was, well, kind of dumb. Because that’s brainstorming. My dumb thought might lead to your aha moment, and that might lead to our next brilliant idea.
As a concept, brainstorming has been around since 1939, when advertising executive Alex Osburn laid out a few basic tenants (although he didn’t actually use the term “brainstorming” until 1953). Since then, the creative industry has twisted and expanded what it actually means to brainstorm. Sometimes that’s ok. But the thing is, a lot of times we’re approaching brainstorming all wrong. And because of that, we’re probably missing a lot of outstanding ideas.
Let’s take a look at what Osburn outlined for us, and how we can use his fundamentals to develop great ideas and, ultimately, great content.
“Focus on quantity.”
In other words, the more ideas, the better. Eventually you’ll hit on something great, but the time spent shouting out the first few things that come to mind is not wasted. Don’t hold out until you have a great big idea, share the little ones, too.
There are no bad ideas during a brainstorming session. Ever. So instead of taking the time to call out why someone’s thought wasn’t spot on, see if you can use the bad idea to spark a good one. If you can’t, just move on. Bringing negative attention to someone in a brainstorming session is a great way to ensure they won’t share their next idea, even when it’s a great one, and it makes everyone else hesitant to speak up, too.
“Welcome unusual ideas.”
Osburn suggests looking at things from a new perspective and also removing any assumptions. Instead of being bogged down in concerns over what will work tactically, what fits in the budget or if a quirky idea will ever be implemented, just think.
“Combine and improve ideas.”
This is that part I really love, where ideas take flight. Don’t be hesitant to delve deeper into a combination of ideas to see where they can go together.
We should all run our brainstorming sessions with these rules in mind because the goal of brainstorming is to collect ideas, not instantly develop a fully vetted strategy. As marketers, it’s our job to further distill those ideas to determine what’s realistic, how it fits with the strategy and if it fits in the budget. But first, we need the ideas.
So how can you set the stage for a brainstorming session that Alex Osborn would approve of?
- Appoint a brainstorming moderator to kickoff the session and keep it on track. This person should listen and gently guide the conversation.
- Share the four rules with your brainstorming group at the start of the session. If people know that unconventional thinking is encouraged and that no idea will be ridiculed, they’ll be more likely to speak up.
- Record the session or bring in someone whose only role is to take notes. That way none of the thinkers have to worry about jotting down their ideas.
- Gather a diverse group of people. Remember, you want fresh perspectives, so look outside the marketing department. You’ll get unique points of view from people whose brains aren’t clouded by an existing creative brief or strategy. As an added bonus, you’ll be giving employees throughout the company a feeling of ownership in the content that gets created.
Osborn showed us the way, it’s up to us to follow it. And why wouldn’t we? The outcome of this type of brainstorming session is always better, and the journey is incredibly fun.
Speaking of great outcomes and fun journeys, check out our Script Your Story sessions. After a killer brainstorming session with the Cursive crew, you’ll get a customized content marketing kickoff document that will provide you with a straightforward and doable plan for success.
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