Shhh, I’m thinking…

Brainstorms. Mind showers. Blue sky breakouts.
Whatever daft name they’re given, they fundamentally consist of a bunch of bright people in a room with coffee, biscuits and Haribos, trying to solve a problem within a certain time limit.

Personally, whilst I see the value in such meetings when thinking of tactics and mapping out strategic approaches, I don’t think they really work when trying to come up with the big core creative concept.

However, I do think they are handy for getting the first half-baked and expected clichés out in the open and quickly dismissed, in order for the teams to go away and start the process of the real clever thinking.

I recently attended a D&AD course on creative leadership where one of the other attendees from a Midlands-based consumer agency introduced me to what he called ‘Isolation creation’.

This was something he would encourage his team to do if they were struggling to crack a brief. Instead of pooling the talent in one room and trying to solve it that way, he would send his creatives out on their own for the day, without their partners, just to think without the distraction of others.

He said that this invariably yielded the kind of focussed ideas that you wouldn’t be able achieve through group thinking.

The teams would then regroup to craft both copy and art into a fully formed solution.

Years ago, my old writing partner and myself were called to work on a massive brief at a sister agency in New York.

It was for a huge global launch and the American lead agency decided that the best thing would be to invite teams from every agency within the group to work in large teams and come up with a complete campaign in a few days.

It was chaotic.

The lead agency wanted to impress the client by flexing their creative muscle and throwing lots of resource at their brief. It was clear that volume of thinking was the aim and unfortunately, there could only be one outcome from working in such a manner.

Whilst this furious brainstorming was going on, one creative was conspicuous by his absence.

Our Indian partners had sent one unassuming creative over to help out. He quietly took the brief, asked a few questions and pretty much disappeared, much to the irritation of the lead agency.

He didn’t do this to wind them up, nor was it a display of creative snobbery ­– it was because he’d looked around the room, noted the sheer numbers of brains and realised that if he wanted to achieve any kind of clarity in his thinking, he would need to bugger off for a while and think alone.

Which he did. For two days.

The day came for the teams to present their ideas back to the wider team. Everyone from the CEO to the junior receptionist were crammed into one of the massive meeting rooms to see the concepts.

Shortly, every available wall, window and ceiling was pasted with mostly mediocre scamps, such was the volume and quality of the output.

Then it was the Indian guy’s turn to show us what he had done. He pulled out two ideas, humbly presented them well and sat back down.

They were the two most focussed and creative ideas in the room.

I had struck up a bit of a friendship with him whilst we were there, meeting him for lunch and evening drinks, and when I asked where he had been, he simply replied that it was ‘too noisy’ and just walked around NYC thinking about the brief on his own.

So occasionally, one head is actually better than two. Or more.


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