Brainstorming techniques are a powerful way to generate new ideas. They’re even more valuable when you gather a group of people with diverse points of view. As they share their ideas through creative brainstorming, members of the group feed off each other and make each other better. The result is better than what one person could have achieved alone.
Here’s how to make every brainstorming meeting a success.
Share Your Definition of Brainstorming
It’s easy to assume that everyone knows what brainstorming is. And yes, most people will agree that brainstorming is a creative process used to produce ideas or solve problems. But what does that mean in practice?
There are two points in the video-making process where brainstorming can help.
- The conceptual stage. You’re working out questions about the basic story and style of the video. This might be the point where you look for metaphors and symbols that communicate your theme. The goal is to come up with a few ideas that can be shared with the client or Creative Director.
- After the script is drafted. The writer can share their script with the group. Then the team can brainstorm ideas for the visuals that will illustrate the words. This meeting is a success if it ends with visual descriptions and even some thumbnail sketches of scenes.
Make sure your brainstorming group understands which part of the process you’re in and what you hope to accomplish.
Before your meeting, give team members an idea of what you’re looking for. If you have created a creative brief, share it at least a day before the meeting. Often, creative people solve problems in their subconscious while they are doing other things. If possible, give them a chance to sleep on it since sleep is a great incubator of solutions.
You might also want to share inspiration for your project. Video clips, images, and short text excerpts can help set the tone for your meeting.
Invite The Right Mix Of People
The most creative ideas come from diverse teams. So be sure you invite a good mix of people to your brainstorming session. Your script writer and art director should both be in the meeting.
Ideally, you’ll also include someone with expertise in video creation. This might be your art director, or it might be someone else, like an animation expert or filmmaker. This person brings the whole grammar of visual storytelling that has been refined through films, television shows, and commercials.
Two or three people might be enough. The most common mistake is to invite too many people. But more people doesn’t always lead to better ideas. What matters most is each person’s background and willingness to contribute.
Ideally, you would gather all of these people in one room. If that’s not possible, you can create a virtual space where people can share ideas and build on them. This might be a Zoom call, a Miro Board, a chat room, or even just a Google doc. Give them a time limit and then set them free in the virtual space.
Set the Expectation of Collaboration
Ego can get in the way if people become too committed to their own ideas and stop listening to each other. Experienced professionals are less likely to have this problem, but it’s still worth being aware of.
A dead giveaway that ego has taken over is when someone starts to claim ownership of specific ideas. A good brainstorming meeting is one that results in a handful of really strong ideas. Who came up with each part is irrelevant.
Before you start, remind your team that no one is keeping score of their individual contribution. Success happens when everyone collaborates to make every idea stronger.
The Most Powerful Brainstorming Technique: Start With Yes
Chuck Jones was the genius director behind many of the greatest Looney Tunes. Here’s what he said about brainstorming with his team:
“This was not a brainstorming session in the usual sense, it was a “yes” session, not an “anything goes” session. Anything went, but only if it was positive, supportive, and affirmative to the premise. No negatives were allowed. If you could not contribute, you kept quiet. For want of a better term, I have always called it… THE “YES” SESSION… The “yes” session imposes only one discipline: the abolition of the word “no.””
– Chuck Jones, Chuck Amuck
The principle is simple here. The imagination wants to run free, not be hemmed in by judgements and objections. Jones created a sense of psychological safety for his team so they felt free to let their imaginations run wild.
The time for editing comes later.
- First you have a YES session. No idea is too stupid or outlandish to be written on the board.
- Then you look at the ideas and pick out the ones you want to pursue.
This simple brainstorming technique will often be far more productive than coming up with ideas and editing them as you go along.
Try Some Brainstorming Techniques
If you find your team is struggling to develop ideas, you might try some more formal brainstorming techniques. These might include:
- Round Robin Brainstorming – A solution for larger groups and groups with some big personalities. Give everyone paper or sticky notes and ask them to write down an idea. When they’re done, pass papers to the left and let the next person add to the idea. Keep sharing in this way until you’ve generated a dozen or so ideas.
- Figure Storming – A solution for shaking the team out of a creative rut. Ask them to imagine how a famous person or group might solve this problem. So you might ask, how would Pixar make this video or what would Chuck Jones do?
- Rapid ideation – A solution for when you want to come up with a lot of ideas quickly. Ask the team to write down, or shout out, as many ideas as possible in a limited amount of time. Don’t discuss or evaluate yet, just write everything down.
How to Succeed At Brainstorming
These best practices can help you find better ideas no matter what brainstorming techniques you use.
1. Communicate in Multiple Modes
Video is powerful because it combines images, sound and story. Your brainstorming sessions should too. Encourage people to draw, talk, sing, or make sound effects. Keep a laptop or tablet nearby so people can use Google image search or share clips from YouTube videos.
2. Avoid Exerting Authority
It’s best not to have a boss in a brainstorming session. Wherever possible, try to work for consensus rather than just telling people what to do. This is easier with a smaller group. If you do need a decision-maker, be clear about who that is and encourage them to use that power sparingly.
3. Embrace Restrictions
Creativity may hate authority, but it thrives under restrictions. Consider Shakespeare, who wrote 154 sonnets in iambic pentameter with the same rhyme pattern. He wasn’t oppressed by the form, he was liberated by it.
When you are brainstorming, set time limits. Challenge people to use fewer words, or express ideas only in rhyme, or communicate only by drawing. Lean in to sustained metaphors, elaborate jokes, and double meanings.
Embracing formal restrictions is more fun, and in a strange way, somehow easier. Infinite possibilities are narrowed, so you are able to identify the right choices quicker. If this process feels like play, then you are probably doing it right.