Moving Beyond Brainstorms

Everyone knows it. Everyone feels it. And creative guru Edward de Bono said it recently in Werben & Verkaufen, a German advertising and communication trade magazine: “Brainstorms are outdated. They are useful to exchange opinions, but they don´t produce a single new idea.”
Surprisingly, some studies show that brainstorms can be one of the most ineffective ways to find new ideas. Why? Because what can happen at times is that one person can dominate the talking and others end up coming up with their own ideas but not really sharing them constructively.
For this reason, it’s high time for creative directors to start deconstructing the myth that the brainstorm is an end-all, be-all process and start coming up with alternative approaches. Approaches that are more efficient but still promise the same interactivity and fellowship, because this seems to be the biggest reason for the popularity of brainstorms: getting together with colleagues. Brainstorms allow us to avoid taking on the burden of a challenge alone, to share it with others, and to make the weight of the world on our shoulders a little bit lighter with some jokes and sympathetic faces.
But generating new ideas from other meeting formats requires new creative techniques. One possibility is online brainwriting, a variation of the good old “brainwriting” done online via e-mail or instant messenging. Participants work on desktops or laptops to add ideas to a list of challenges presented through defined questions. These ideas can be sent to the person who presents the challenge or they can be sent from participant to participant, with the goal for each participant to improve the idea a little bit.
For years, brainstorms have played a significant role at bringing a diversity of people and ideas together at our agency, and will continue to be a key part of  sparking creativity and producing fresh ideas. But we’ve relied on them for so long now that they’ve almost become a victim of their own success. It’s time to build on the classic concept of a brainstorm and find new approaches to tapping people’s collective insight for finding the best ideas.