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Stop Brainstorming. You're doing it wrong.

. Rod Rakic

See if this sounds familiar...

A colleague sends you a meeting invite, "Brainstorm on Project X - Conference Room C - 3pm." That's it. Just bring yourself, a notebook, sometimes a laptop, (for checking email when things get dull) and if you're really sharp, maybe some extra markers and Post-its to share.

So you gather up with your co-workers a windowless conference room, a place that would do a nice job standing in for a sensory deprivation tank. Blank walls. Sterile shelves and tables. A big blank whiteboard.

The brainstorm starts with a quick recap of, "Project X," then someone goes to the whiteboard, and grabs a marker. Next someone asks the worst question possible...

"Wouldn't be cool if _____?"

This is the number one killer of projects. This is absolutely the wrong question to ask. We've all seen work that makes us stop and wonder, "What the heck were they thinking?" The thinnest of strategies, the vaguest objectives, the scatter-shot tactics, the lame executions, all often are born from brainstorm meetings that look something like this.

The question that you should be asking is...

"Isn't it cool that _____?"

This is a question that you can only ask if you have insight into the audience. Any project that doesn't start with the customer, the audience, the target, the users, at the center of your thinking, will fail, no matter how smart the people in the room are.

Stop expecting your team to deliver creative in a vacuum.

Give everyone a brief and background prior to the meeting, give them a chance to chew on it for a bit, and bring their own insights to the table.

Fill the room. Make the room a workshop, not a blank slate. Have insight into the audiences posted, context for the technology, and the objectives for the business tacked up on the walls, products on the shelves, and prototypes on the tables.

Fix it now. Ask the right questions. Make it a priority to give yourself and your colleagues a fighting chance at delivering valuable experiences. Your audience deserves it.


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