It is a common thing to hear ‘I’m not creative’ or ’I’m not the ideas person’ - but it is my belief every single person on this planet can be a creative thinker or at the very least a creative muse in a brainstorming session! When we brainstorm at Reflect we never leave anyone out of the process, whoever is free and wants to join in is welcome - as creativity knows no bounds. I also actively encourage people to say whatever they are thinking as it is often the ‘silly’ ideas that may push someone else into coming up with the perfect idea. Whilst we are on the topic - it is often me that has the most silly ideas!

A great real life example of this was in 1982 when Craig Good was a janitor for Pixar. At the time Pixar offered all employees the opportunity to attend programming courses after work, which Good took up.  From doing this he ended up being moved into the computer division of the company. Eventually Good became a camera artist working on Finding Nemo, Toy Story and Monsters Inc. to name a few, a job he held for thirty years. By Pixar offering all staff this opportunity it encouraged their creativity and resulted in many great new creatives being born.

A couple of things to remember - it is not often the first idea that is the winner - James Dyson spent 5 years designing 5k prototypes for the first cyclone vacuum - which means 4,999 of these were failures.

A quote from Mark Twain’s autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review, remind us that there are no new ideas:

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of coloured glass that have been in use through all the ages.

This is so true, yes there are always new ways of thinking around new types of technology or new inventions, but they are always solving a problem that is already in existence that we usually already have a way around. So do not be self-conscious of looking at what other brands are doing, we must not ever copy – but it is definitely fair to take inspiration from what is happening around us.

So how do we come up with ideas?

Below I have included 5 techniques that I believe work really well - for each of these though it is important that a clear brief has been circulated first.

1. Group Brainstorm

  • What do I need? A group of people, ideally a mixed group from different areas of the business - as this will offer lots of different angles on the same idea.

  • How long? No more than an hour - people tire quickly, I would potentially suggest more like 30 mins and then revisiting it 24 hours later.

  • What do we do? Share the brief at least 24 hours beforehand; ensure someone is chairing the brainstorm and just start discussing ideas. Make sure someone is keeping notes of everything and that these are circulated within a hour of the discussion so that everyone can review these again later.  Keep the conversation on topic, ensure all ideas are heard and encourage everyone to share whatever is on their mind.


2. 6-3-5 Brainwriting by Bernd Rohrback

  • What do I need? 6 People, some paper and pens.

  • What do we do? Each person takes five minutes to write down three ideas (against the clearly written brief). After five minutes each person passes their sheet to the left. Now each person has to write three ideas taking inspiration from the ideas in front of them, this is then repeated until everyone has their original sheet back. In 30 minutes, 108 ideas have been generated now ready for review!

  • How long? 30 minutes


3. Focus Group

  • What do I need? A group of people that fit your target audience, ideally if there are variations in your target audience try and have someone that fits each of there. There is no definitive number of people needed, but do remember if you have too many it will be hard to get their thoughts heard.

  • How long? This can last a few hours - it depends on numbers etc.

  • What do we do? So you invite the people along with a clear brief of what you would like to discuss - this is not necessarily your overall brief - as this is likely to be too detailed, as what you are aiming to get is their opinions normally as opposed to concrete ideas. Someone needs to chair the session and I would advise having a few team members there to help assist and write notes. The point of this session will vary depending on what you are trying to get ideas about. So for example we did this recently for a Premiership Football Club brief - we needed to come up with a new design for their membership renewal campaign - so we used it as an opportunity to find out how fans were feeling about the current season. We spoke to parents who had kids that had membership, we spoke to a lifelong fan of 86, and we got a real feel for what the fans wanted to see.


4. Get outside, away from your desk!

  • What do I need? Yourself and maybe some colleagues, but this can be a solo exercise.

  • How long? There is no time on this one.

  • What do we do? In general the rule on this one is just get away from your norm and let your brain relax, do not put too much pressure on the idea - as this can often stop creativity.

The trick to this type of brainstorming is just to let your brain wander and to see where it takes you, look at nature around you, look at ideas around you and see if any can offer some kind of inspiration.

So many real, creative ideas come from nature, here are a couple of examples:

  • Nike designers observed mountain goats at a zoo and developed the Goatek Traction show from this - an all terrain shoe.

  • Clarence Birdseye ate some fish that was naturally frozen and later thawed, he used nature’s idea and the frozen food industry took off.


5. Put together some visual stimulation

  • What do I need? The Internet and Pinterest will do nicely!

  • How long? However long you need.

  • What do we do? Search the Internet for words that resonate with your brief or the brand, look for images that convey the emotions you want, look at Google Images – this can often give some random ideas. Everything and anything you find that is relevant save it to a Pinterest board.

    • Once you have a good number of images on there – take a review, is there a common theme? Is there anything in particular that stands out? Could you share this with colleagues or your client to get their thoughts?

    • It may be after doing this you set up a traditional brainstorm, whereby you share the brief and these 24 hours beforehand.


These are just some of the techniques I use and each will work with varying success depending on the brief and what is required. I have never used one of these techniques and not come up with anything, but do not beat yourself up if you do not feel you have the perfect idea after one session. Creativity does take time and time is often the best thing to allow your subconscious to work on the idea – my ‘eureka’ moment is often driving on a motorway following a team brainstorm.

Happy brainstorming! Tomorrow we will be covering the 6 principles of creating memorable content.


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