Well, it’s that time of year again. Time to figure out new ways to grow in the new year. Time to do more with less. Time to make some time to figure out how to make more time.

The trouble is, try as we might, we can’t make time.

The number 8,760 might ring a bell. That’s the number of hours in a year. No more, no less.

So, when it comes to brainstorming—or as the literati might say, ideating (Looked up the word “ideate” and it means “to form ideas, think.” Puffy word. But great concept! Thinking forms ideas? Who knew!)—how do we use the time we do have more judiciously and kick ourselves out of the same old patterns?

For better brainstorming, we definitely need a kick-start, not just more coffee (though that often helps). Here’s an idea for starters. To improve creativity, we should try to think about the problem from some vantage point other than our own.

Try it right now with your own product or service. Pretend you are a famous celebrity, dead or alive. Have fun with it. Think of ways your product or service might be perceived if you were pitching it to, oh I don’t know, maybe Chris Farley, or Oprah or Jimmy Kimmel. The point is to free your mind enough to think from another person’s perspective. Imagining it’s a celebrity just makes it fun.

Another brainstorming boost is silence. Get your group of 3-7 people together. Arm everyone with post-its and sharpies. But let them sit silently and think about the problem individually for 15 minutes. No talking for that long? An eternity, right? Not really. Brainstorming takes time. It takes thought. So ask everyone to stop, think, write their ideas down and, after the 15 minutes is up, stick their post-its on a flip chart, whiteboard or idea wall. Only then does the discussion begin. Spend 30 minutes winnowing out, rearranging, refining and reimagining the possibilities.

Now, we know time is a finite commodity and waits for no one. We all get those same 8,760 hours. But if you have the discipline to break the brainstorm into two days, you can truly tap into some new and possibly breakthrough ideas. Try this. Separate your next brainstorming session into two separate sessions—generation and evaluation—a day or two apart. The first session is purely for Idea Generation. It can be done in 45 minutes using the approach above. A day or two later comes the Idea Evaluation phase. Bring the same team together, with the benefit of a good night’s sleep and rumination, and home in on the best ideas to develop further.

In brainstorming, often the best ideas are not the first ideas. The first ones may come easy. They may come loud and proud from their owners’ mouths. But that does not make them the best. The biggest, boldest ideas sometimes come in a whisper. Think outliers.

Remember it’s not enough to say, “That’s not a good idea.” Teammates in a brainstorm need to offer an improvement or an alternative. After all, there are no bad ideas in brainstorming. All ideas should be heard. Try to “plus” one another’s ideas. If at first an idea doesn’t seem to have strength or “legs” on its own, plus it! Make it better by adding to it or shifting it a bit.

If good ideas are what your business needs, and who doesn’t need lots of good ideas, better brainstorming is a great start. Oh, and hire a great agency. Now that’s a good idea!


By Steve Johnson, Managing Partner