Reimagining the brainstorm: How nixing flawed ideas sparks brilliance

Office politics and 700-pound corporate gorillas can undermine the creative fluidity of such sessions. Instead, conduct a ‘killstorm,’ winnowing good ideas to a select few. Here’s how.

How 'killstorming' boosts productivity

Over the years, the brainstorm has led to some great things.

It’s fostered ideas that expand businesses, product innovations, even 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 just a fraction of the way closer to a breakthrough idea.

People worry about what others will think of their ideas, especially if more knowledgeable or vocal people are present. Internal politics and hierarchies can make participants feel their ideas aren’t worthy of discussion. If a senior team member monopolizes the conversation, your brainstorm is over before it even begins. There won’t be space for anyone else’s ideas.

To help clients get around these roadblocks, consider the “killstorm.”

Killstorming your way to better ideas

The basic concept is to ask people 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 to generate them on the spot. Criticizing existing ideas is a more familiar mode of thinking.

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

The approach also ameliorates internal politics. If, for example, an agency presents the ideas, brand teams feel more empowered to criticize without worrying about offending colleagues. Though some clients might hesitate to ask agency partners to do the heavy lifting, you can 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.

A version of this post first appeared on MediaPost.

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