Brainstorming for Creatives: Is It Helping Or Hurting?

Mark Duffy says in his article Copyranter: Ban Brainstorming, "brainstorming is the worst thing to happen to the creative industry". As my German grandmother would say: Too many cooks in the kitchen is never a good thing. My hometown is considered the Snack Food Capital of the World. We have Utz Chips, Martins Chips, Hershey’s chocolate, Snyder’s Pretzels, the York Peppermint Patty and we even used to have Mars. Imagine if just one of these companies had changed their recipes because someone thought there was too much salt on the chips or the chocolate was too sweet. Every one of these companies has two or fewer founders. In fact, I don’t know of any company that has more than 3 founders. This is because there can be major issues when too many people are involved in a creative project.

First, too many people being involved in a project can indicate a lack of trust in the initial person hired for the project. If my boss asked me to handle a project and then assigned three other people to “brainstorm” with me, I would assume she didn’t think I could handle it, at which point I would feel she doesn’t trust me and I would lose trust in her. I may not give my all to the project and take a backseat while others run the show.

Secondly, people can get what Duffy described “sadistic pleasure in killing or drastically altering talented creatives’ creative.” When a creative comes up with a new idea, there will always, always be someone there to say “Well that won’t work because…” so they can be the one with the good idea in the end. Or they may just be a Negative Nancy. According to Duffy, brainstorming is for revisers, not creators.”

Either way, do you really want someone stepping on your creatives toes?

Image courtesy of Wix

Finally, this leads to the end product, which is a boring, could-have-come-up-with-this-in-my-sleep idea. “This will not produce good work, but it will produce something safe and expected.” People are not naturally risk takers, it’s not how we survive. Therefore, the more people in the room, the less risk that will be taken on an idea. No one wants to hear “Did you approve this?” after a risky campaign.

There are some instances in which brainstorming is a solution. For example, if there is a last-minute rush to put a project together, brainstorming may be a great way to quickly problem solve. On strategy projects, brainstorming could be a great way to find the best path forward. But when you’re working with creatives, “brainstorming” can create what is known as a camel. If you’re a Parks and Rec fan, you know what I mean. In episode 15 of Parks and Rec Season 1, the team is given the task of creating a mural for their town hall. Each of the 7 people in group contribute one thing to the mural. What they end up with is, quite frankly, disturbing. There is no real theme, no color pallet, a random dog, and a burning building all in one image. Someone walks into the room and calls their mural a camel, meaning a project that was put together in a way that doesn’t really make sense.

At the end of the day, you know your team best. Beware of overcomplicating a project and allow your team to work. But, when necessary a little brainstorming can boost teamwork. As Mark Duffy says “Brainstorming is for people who don’t know a good idea when they see it.”

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