Ruth Synowic is a Senior Creative Director at The Marketing Store who has created, designed and directed toy and game development for retail, premium, and specialty gift markets. Ruth has led the design and development of over 200 Happy Meal toy programs for McDonald’s North America, Latin America, Europe, and Global promotions. Her singular life’s focus, to work for the benefit of children, has led her to a career in the Toy Industry which has spanned over 20 years.
Generating great ideas is the goal of any brainstorm, but how do you avoid having your "storm" pass with the net result of "cloudy with no chance of showers"? How do you run the most engaging brainstorms with the greatest results? There are several basic steps you can take to ensure you have a productive session. Here are a few ideas that have worked for developing hundreds, even thousands, of concepts for Happy Meal toys.
Prep and Research. Prep the team ahead of time by providing research, background information, and images participants can review prior to the "storm". Research the competition. Make everyone aware of what already exists or how similar problems have been resolved before. Share style guide images, video clips, etc. You'll spend more time generating ideas and solutions in your brainstorm if basic questions have been answered ahead of time.
Setting the stage. Optimize the potential for new ideas by creating or providing an exciting environment. Go to a park, brainstorm on a rooftop, build a snow fort and hold your meeting there. Or, have individuals bring in visual and tactile stimuli to generate inspiration. Include stimuli from other market categories to expand thinking beyond the area you're concepting and with which you're comfortable. Stimuli should appeal to your creative senses, relate to your general topic, and provide a springboard for lively discussion.
Selecting a facilitator. Keeping your brainstorm lively and productive is the responsibility of everyone involved but you'll want to select a facilitator to keep you on track and capture all of the ideas. Choose an enthusiastic facilitator or, if possible, take turns leading the brainstorm. Sharing the responsibility increases the level of participation and often the creative output.
Stating the objective. State the objective or purpose of your brainstorm; what are you trying to accomplish? In the first few minutes of the meeting jot down the objective on a large easel pad and occasionally refer to it throughout the session. For example: "We need three electronic active indoor sports ideas for boys. We need to create a unique girls' dress-up category. We need to develop a business relationship with Mr. X." The more concise your objective is, the more focused your brainstorm will be.
Getting the entire team involved. Keeping team members interested increases the chances you'll have active participants. Use games like charades, toss a ball and have individuals shout an idea, or spin an object and shout an idea when it points to you. These are all engaging brainstorm methods that keep individuals on their toes and generate a lot of ideas in a short amount of time. The use of word, image, or object associations can help to combine seemingly unrelated ideas and generate concepts that go beyond the
obvious. Role play in the voice of a cartoon character, dress up as characters, pretend you're the end consumer and think about their expectations; or, put yourself in the shoes of your Client and ask the questions they'll ask – all exercises that will get you to think outside of your boundaries. Mixing and matching objects and visuals gets the group to merge existing ideas and create new concepts from products that are proven. If ideas are difficult to articulate or you need to generate thumbnail drawings of the team's concepts, a "sketch storm" is the perfect way to generate ideas and supporting sketches quickly. Sketches are more dynamic representations of an idea and can quickly spark additional concept generation and solicit builds to others’ concepts.
When you kick off your brainstorm, you may have little or no indication of the unique results that will be generated – you shouldn’t have! The most exciting part of brainstorming is not knowing which solution you will arrive at, but knowing that you will, and that you will have fun getting there. Millions of solutions surround you just waiting to be recognized and brought to life. Every brainstorm can provide its own unique approach to generating and gathering ideas. The real satisfaction comes in being open to and tuning in on inventive new thinking, then turning that thinking into innovative, inspired, relevant answers to the challenge.