How to Brainstorm Better: Don't Brainstorm At All

Over the years, the brainstorm has led to some great things: ideas that grow businesses, new product innovations, and free sandwiches. However, traditional brainstorms aren’t always effective. Often, the participants spend a few hours in a room scribbling on post-it notes, only to end up a fraction of the way closer to a breakthrough idea.

To get to better thinking faster, we first took a look at the issues that can derail traditional brainstorms.

Issues with Traditional Brainstorms

People worry what others will think of their ideas, especially if there are more knowledgeable or vocal people present. Internal politics and hierarchies can also make participants feel like their ideas aren’t worthy of discussion. If there’s a senior team member in the room who talks a lot, your brainstorm is over before it even begins. There won’t be space left to discuss anyone else’s ideas.

We thought a lot about how we could help clients get around these roadblocks, and we came up with the Killstorm (no, that’s not a tragic misspelling of brainstorm).



Killstorm Your Way to Better Ideas

The basic concept of a Killstorm is to ask people in the room to react to (or kill) potential ideas. Instead of gathering to generate a bunch of thinking from scratch, the meeting begins with a wall full of rough ideas to consider, provided by a strategic team familiar with the business.

Once the brand team enters the room, they get right to “killing” ideas they don’t like, discussing what’s wrong with the ones they do, and (inevitably) coming up with a few new ones along the way. After an hour of productive conversation, there are usually two or three interesting ideas everyone’s excited about.

Why is this a more effective solution? For one, it is easier for most people to react to ideas than it is to generate them on the spot. Criticizing existing ideas is a more familiar mode of thinking for most.

Under tight time constraints, everyone’s “brainstormed” ideas tend to be similar because participants are approaching the problem with similar inputs. The Killstorm gets teams to better thinking, faster because less time is spent discussing minor variations of the same idea.

The approach also eliminates internal politics. If, for example, an agency presents the ideas, brand teams feel more empowered to criticize without worrying about offending colleagues. While some clients may hesitate to ask agency partners to do the heavy lifting, we encourage it. Seeing ideas from an outside perspective is the reason you hire a smart agency.

Next time you’re searching for a “big” idea, resist the urge to get everyone in a room to figure it out; instead, try challenging the way things have always been done. While a Killstorm isn’t right for every situation, it has proven to be an incredibly efficient and successful practice in many cases.

3 comments about "How to Brainstorm Better: Don't Brainstorm At All".
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  1. Phillip Nones from Mullin/Ashley Associates, Inc., October 25, 2019 at 1:32 p.m.

    Then there are those occasions when a mix of both approaches is taken in the meeting.  That's when you end up with something closer to a sh*tstorm

  2. John Parikhal from joint communications, October 30, 2019 at 1:24 p.m.

    Clever headline. Attention grabbing idea. That's all. The idea is not proven other than asserting that it has "proven" to be a "succesful practice" in "many cases" - with no mention of how many cases were successful (if any) compared to those derailed by this approach. The biggest issue is that It is hugely "psychologically unsafe", for all but a very , very small slice of the population who are comfortable with disageement (which most people metabolize as conflict and fighting). This piece provides ZERO evidence or case studies about its efficacy when compared to the proven concept of: professionally facilitated brainstorming, winnowing based on agreed-upon criteria, revisiting the winnowed list and enhancing, then testing results. And, the ridiculous assertion that this approach "eliminates internal poltics" shows how little the author really understands about these dynamics. He's actually talking about the role of MANAGEMENT. Prediction: This approach will do far more harm than good.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 30, 2019 at 1:47 p.m.

    Exactly, John. I've used brainstorm sessions as an intial stage in evaluating TV show ideas and, later, pilot episodes, but never as if they were projectable. Done properly, all they give you are ideas for additional investigation and development---not the final answer.

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