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Brainstorming Math

By: Harry

There were only three of us when we started Tom, Dick & Harry in 2002. We often defended our smallness to potential clients by citing the old “too many chefs” argument.

Soon we found ourselves in a pitch against Ogilvy & Mather. Three versus three thousand-- the 1962 Mets had better odds.  We didn’t win that one, but we did coin our very own Collaboration Theorem (with apologies to Mr. Pythagorean):

The value of an idea is inversely proportional to the number of people in the room when it was conceived.

Even today, at ten times our original size, we believe this simple rule of creativity to be truer than ever. In this era of open concept offices, team building and group thinking, it’s important to remember that big ideas come from small gatherings.

Over the years, I’ve heard 19 different people claim to be part of the team at J. Walter Thompson that came up with the name “Die-Hard” for Sears batteries. Maybe they were part of a committee working on it, but-- guarantee-- a copywriter or art director thought of it all by his or her lonesome, probably while walking to work. Only then did the pack of vultures swoop in to share the credit. 

John Hegarty, founder of London’s Bartle Bogle Hegarty provides an interesting analogy: “Sitting around on beanbags holding hands and having a happy-clappy meeting will not lead to greatness. Some people think you can create brilliance by brainstorming with lots of people.  Well, you can’t. It’s a bit like an orgy. Too many people make for bad sex.”

Famed art director Bob Barrie, who they should probably name the One Show Pencil after, was asked how he comes up with so many good ideas. He claims that it never happens in the presence of anyone else, not even a writing partner. He prefers to think independently.

Conference rooms might seat sixteen but critical thinking requires more seclusion. The best method we have found is to work in teams of two.  Mix it up with diverse thinkers, making sure to match opposite talents. Team a writer with an art director, or a brand planner with a developer. You can cover more ground quickly and achieve creative intimacy, which allows you to say, “Harry, that idea sucks,” without fear of offending. If you do that in a group brainstorming session, the moderator blows the whistle: “Now, now, let’s be open-minded. There are no bad ideas when brainstorming.”  Oh yes there are.

So client partners, when the urge to hold a group brainstorming session strikes you, pair off instead and conquer the world. Ask each team to bring ideas to the meeting and use the time for evaluation instead of conception.

Wish we had beaten Ogilvy that time. We should have brainstormed in a group of two instead of three. 

07.18.14   The Biz

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