We’re Giving Away the Secret Sauce… for Better Brainstorms!

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WhiteSpace’s 8 Unbreakable Brainstorm Rules

You know that saying that all rules are meant to be broken? Well, these are the rules that break that rule. I’m about to reveal to you WhiteSpace’s eight sacred brainstorming rules. We hang them in our brainstorming space so they are top of mind. We introduce them to clients when they brainstorm with us. We make new hires stand on one foot, balance a fresh orange on their heads and recite these rules. Most importantly, we do not break them. (Or, if we do, we get called out and harshly ostracized at the next company potluck.)

In all seriousness, Whitespace clients and area students ask our staff for brainstorming tips all the time. The idea of a brainstorm may seem simple enough… until your team is sitting around the table staring at a blank white board. Never fear, we have some tried and true guidelines to help keep the energy up and the ideas flowing. If you can get past the sort of gruesome image of secret brain sauce.

1. Wild ideas welcome

I’ve been in a lot of brainstorms, some energizing and some… painful. There is nothing worse than a group of people bursting with ideas but terrified to share them because they might be too out there. This rule sets the tone of your brainstorm. Wild, weird, wonderful, terrible – all ideas are welcome at this early stage.

2. Suspend judgment

In order for the first rule to work, this one must be honored. Brainstorming is, in part, about taking risks. And taking risks when you’re in front of a group of people is all about trust. Even if an idea sounds absolutely nuts, give it space to grow. See what cool, unexpected turns it takes. Tip: Remember that suspending judgment includes your facial expressions, body language and side comments.

3. One conversation at a time

Speaking of side comments? Yeah, cut that out. Brainstorms are productive because they involve a lot of minds coming together to tackle a challenge. In order to leverage all that collective brainpower, the experience needs to be, well, collective. Listening is just as big of a job as speaking up in a brainstorm.

4. Quantity over quality

Truth time: your first idea is probably average at best. Your second through 20th? Probably still not knocking anyone’s socks off. That’s the magic of brainstorms. You get your garbage ideas out, then the mediocre ones come, then you tap into each other’s energy and insight, and really special, smart and exciting things start happening. But you have to work through all those other ideas first.

5. No critiques or debate

One way to ensure quantity is to give any critique or debate a big, fat “nope.” The brainstorm is not the time to vet ideas. At the end of your brainstorm, you should select the top concepts you want to continue exploring, and this next phase will allow plenty of time for analysis, research, conversation and revision. The brainstorm is simply a time to let your brains wander.

6. No buts (yes, and)

This is a very firm rule in the WhiteSpace brainstorm world. Admittedly, it’s one we often try to find loopholes around (“Yes, and your idea is stupid…”). The nuances of word choice actually do help to shape the conceptual thoughts that we have. Hello, 1984? Double plus good, anyone? Don’t shoot an idea down with a “but” objection. Instead, build on it in a new direction with “yes, and.”

7. Be curious

The brainstorm is a time for a rapid-fire generation of ideas, yes. But that doesn’t mean you have to lock yourselves in a conference room and limit your team to the (surely magnificent) brains sitting around the table. It’s OK to spread reference material all over the table. Go ahead and use Google or hit up thesaurus.com or any other quick online tool that might help push you to a better place. Ask questions. Explore.

8. Have fun and play

This one is kind of a no-brainer. You know how Google gives their software developers toys to play with? It’s the same concept. People are more likely to be innovative and collaborative when they are relaxed and in a good mood. We even like to set Play-Doh on the table for a little textile play to stimulate different areas of the brain.

There you have it. Our never-break rules for effective brainstorming. It’s how we get the brain sauce flowing around here. And, just so you know, if you break the brainstorm rules, we break your legs. Okay okay. In all likelihood, we will ask you, in a very polite way, to stay the course with these eight rules and see where the brainstorm takes you.  

Need help facilitating your next brainstorm? Contact us. If you’re willing to play by our rules, we’re happy to help!    

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Special thanks to our former Creative Director John Puglia for first writing these rules down for us. It was an honor to work alongside John and to learn from his endless creativity. We miss you, John, every day.

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