When it comes to brainstorming, especially with large teams, one of the challenges is getting the loudmouths to shut up and the quieter members to speak up. Easier said than done. It gets harder still when a team is comprised of numerous disciplines or if the organization’s muscle memory defaults to a standard approach to problem solving, i.e. ad agencies think of ads, digital agencies forget about propagation, brands focus on products instead of social content.
But one effective brainstorming approach is the “shut up and write technique.” Here’s how it works. Get everyone together — art, copy, strategy, mobile, tech, UX, media, social. Brief them on what you’re trying to do, the problem you’re hoping to solve, and the questions you need answered. (See this post on “How might we?”) Then don’t let anyone talk. Make everyone shut up for 10 full minutes and write down ideas. If they can’t think of ideas have them write down questions or obstacles. You’ll be surprised what you get back. Instead of one or two or three of the “typical” ideas your teams usually generate, you’ll find suggestions that come from a wide range of perspectives.
Here’s why it works.
The most assertive voices are neutralized
We all know that the loudest ideas aren’t always the best. It’s true also that ideas from the most senior people aren’t necessarily better than those from a rookie. By shutting everyone up the conversation doesn’t start with the boss or someone of rank saying, “Here’s what I think.”
No one has to compete for the floor
With large groups it’s common for people to think about getting their chance or planning when to chime in. That makes it harder to listen for anyone anxious to talk and it intimidates those who aren’t good at grabbing an opening. With this approach folks know that their ideas will get heard, as everyone gets a turn.
People won’t be influenced by earlier comments
“Yes but,” or “How about if you did it this way instead?” can advance the conversation but it can also put all the emphasis on one or two ideas. When everyone has a few minutes to think and focus there’s a tendency to come at it from one’s own perspective. You get a wider range of undeveloped ideas rather than a conversation that builds on one or two.
Everyone feels important and equal
The “shut up and write technique” sends a message to everyone in the room that: a. they need to generate ideas and b. their ideas matter to the project. It’s a tactic that both demands and encourages participation.
It focuses people on their area of expertise
This might be the best reason of all. Getting people to write down what they think will work generally gets participants to draw on their their area of expertise. Developers don’t come up with ad ideas, they come up with programs, or platforms, or technological solutions. In an organization that defaults to one kind of solution, this can be quite refreshing.
We did this today on a new business project. Two things happened. We got lots of unexpected ideas that a traditional creative team would never have generated. And we got a ton of positive feedback from all who were invited to join. Both good outcomes. Got any other brainstorming techniques you want to share?
Oh, and a huge thanks to Tim Leake, who introduced me to this technique. Thanks, Tim.
Cartoon by Dave Walker