Many years ago when I was starting out in my advertising sales career, our sales manager would gather us together for creative sessions where the sole purpose of the meeting was to come up with new ideas and innovations for products to sell. Back then we called it brainstorming of course; and to be honest, I still do.


In fact, only recently I was asked about using this term and whether it was ‘ok’ or politically correct to do so. I believe it is fine in the right context. Certainly over the last 30 years or so I have been in many similar sessions where it has been declared a ‘thought shower’ or some other such synonym that I don’t care to remember and it always felt a little contrived.


So if in doubt, ask an expert, and as far back as 2008 Margaret Thomas, then of the National Society for Epilepsy, said: "Brainstorming is a clear and descriptive phrase. Alternatives such as thought shower or blue-sky thinking are ambiguous to say the least. Any implication that the word brainstorming is offensive to epileptics takes political correctness too far." So there you have it, now let’s discuss how we do it.


Some of the basic methodology we used back then still holds water today, so I’ll go through what we did and update as I go. These would the key areas that I would have considered to have been our golden rules of brainstorming back then.


Our sales manager would always lead the sessions and not actually participate. This worked well as his role was to ensure that we stayed on track, no one was allowed to drift into negativity and it was always handy to have someone to do time checks and ensure that the session fizzed along, not allowing it to get stuffy in any way.


One of the main things that we focussed on back then was to really drill down into the nuts and bolts of a specific subject. In other words, we had a targeted subject in mind and stuck to it. Much difficulty lies in brainstorming an idea that is too vague like ‘new ideas for features’. Instead we would take an idea for a feature and squeeze very once of creativity out of that particular subject. That theory still works today!


A great idea that he implemented after a few sessions was that as we had almost finished our session, he would ask someone from another department, such as editorial or production, to come into the session and we would precis what we had done by quickly going through the outcomes of our labours.


What happened here was that the invited guest would often just see things from a new and different perspective and many times an accidental gem of a statement would emerge. “That’s a great idea and if we add our piece to that each month then it would be a more complete section” (this would invariably be something that we hadn’t thought of because it wasn’t under our departmental control or in our gift to give it – only an outsider could have brought that idea to the table).


There is one thing that can really kill a creative session before it ever gets started; that is the environment and a lack of equipment to run the session within it. To address this, try and hold your creative session away from the hustle and bustle of your daily work life. Think of it in the same way as dog owners train their dogs! Well, at least those who are serious about pet obedience or displaying their pet at shows.


Firstly, they would take ‘Rex’ to a place where he can have a good sniff at everything, generally play around and sort his ablutions. Then they would take him to a different area (another field or perhaps or a corner/area of the same field) and do some serious obedience training. The beast gets used to the idea that when we enter the field it’s all fun and games for a while but then when go into that corner over there or through the hedge into the next field, then we have a little work to do. In the same way, find a place that is your ‘creative space’ and only use that place for your ideas’ sessions.


To address the second issue of equipment within that environment, just make sure that there are plenty of tools to work with around. We used to have at least two flip charts and plenty of coloured pens. There’s nothing more frustrating than someone trying to explain an idea and scrabbling around for a pen and paper to draw you a picture! Encourage visual creativity.


This leads us to the two most important golden rules. The first being; know when you’ve outstayed your welcome. In other words, don’t go on too long as you run a real risk of forcing the issue and making the whole thing laborious. Most of the time you will just know when the session has run its course and proceedings should be bought to a close. Conversely, don’t think that you are going to metaphorically ‘split the atom’ in a 10-minute brainstorming session. The opposite of too long is to approach the task with indecent haste. Take your time and make sure you get the most from each session.


 Most importantly, if there was a golden rule of golden rules then this would be the one and it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to any of you to discover is it this; do not, under any circumstances criticise, pour scorn or pooh-pooh an idea. No really, and it doesn’t matter how bad or ridiculous you think it might sound in the moment.


Many years ago in a creative session I attended, a young executive once suggested, “Oh and we could take the traffic reports relating to roadworks in the town and road closures etc. and we can put them in a coloured box or in bold lines to highlight them and sell adverts next to them for a premium”. A second or two of silence following ed whilst everyone processed that suggestion. Then sadly, the next voice we heard came from a very senior member of staff who laughed and said sarcastically, “Sponsoring traffic? Yeah right, this hole in the road brought to you by…”.


Luckily, that idea didn’t disappear into a hole because it was implemented and within a short while thousands of pounds of revenue was being generated because advertisers saw the value in being placed next to a short report that people would read in the publication as it very usefully highlighted which routes to avoid on Monday morning rush hour etc; plus, they were prepared to pay a premium to be there! Back then this kind of premium advertising had not been done in that way before, but today, ‘Here’s our traffic report sponsored by…’ is commonplace, as exposure is exposure for advertisers, no matter how it comes.


Here at Maguire Training we have classroom-based courses and programmes that can help you with understanding brainstorming and creativity. We are also proud to offer a versatile and intuitive suite of over a hundred e-learning modules on our website which covers a range of leadership, business management, strategy and related topics. Have a look at our elearning module ‘Creative Problem Solving’ which would be the prefect complement to our classroom-based programmes.


If you need further information then you could always call us of course on 0333 5777 144 for a no obligation discussion about your training requirements. Alternatively, simply hit the ‘Contact Us’ on any page of our website at and we’ll get right back to you.


Either way it would be great to hear from you.

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