Navigating the (brain)storm

photo of stormy sky

I always loved storms when I was a kid, half the fun was in watching the clouds gather, hearing the first far off rumbles and anticipating the first bright flash of lightning. It’s a bit the same with brainstorming.

As a PR agency, getting the team together for a creative brainstorm for a new client or potential client is a really exciting prospect. We’re naturally creative folk, and the idea of imagining a possibility that will really excite and impress and work for a client, well that’s what we’re all about.

As I quickly learned upon entering the PR world, brainstorming’s not just as simple as showing up to the meeting and letting that storm out of your brain. Believe it or not there’s a right way to do it.

In 1926 a man named Graham Wallas wrote a book called The Art of Thought, where he outlined the four stages of the creative process (aka brainstorming).

Like most great things, brainstorming takes time.

Preparation

In an ideal world, you’ll have some advanced notice of a brainstorm so use your time wisely. Fill your brain with as many metaphorical clouds as possible. Do your background research and study up, good ideas come from a good understanding of the playing field. Don’t leave it until the day of the brainstorm either, the sooner you can get your head around the subject matter, the longer your brain has to consider ideas. Which leads us to the next stage …

Incubation

It’s important to have a good period of time between your initial preparation and when you’ll need to produce some ideas. Ever noticed that your best ideas come when you’re in the shower, or driving your car? That’s because while you’re daydreaming away, your brain finally has the opportunity to pull that great idea that was floating in your subconscious forward into your conscious mind. On to the next stage …

Illumination

The light bulb moment. Or in this analogy, the lightning strike. As mentioned above, this will often come at an inopportune moment, followed by thunderous applause (that last part might be in your head).

Verification

The last step is to bring it back around full circle and just check that this brilliant idea aligns with all the research you did at the start.

These stages can loop on repeat a few times until you’re satisfied you’ve got something to bring to the table. Remember to think big, as you can always scale back an idea.

Now you’re ready for the brainstorming session. If you’re able, it can really help to have someone impartial facilitate a brainstorm. Remember too that there are no dumb ideas or questions and no hierarchy around a brainstorming table, don’t rain on anyone’s parade too early.

Afterwards there should still be time for some more incubation and a few more illuminations before the final ideas are curated. Then you can cue the real thunderous applause.

Happy storming!

By Alexandra Haddon