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Brainstorm guide – 10 tips for planning exceptional editorial content

Are you running out of fresh new ideas for your company blog? Does it seem like the content you create keeps repeating the same patterns over and over again? Or worse, do you simply feel you’ve squeezed all the creativity out of your poor brain? Well, you’re not alone. Everyone working in the creative industry knows that great angles and ideas don’t just float around in the air waiting for you to pick and choose. So, where can you get them from?

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One (rather brilliant) answer to the question above is brainstorming. It’s the hip word that seems to be on everyone’s lips these days but in fact it’s a technique people have been using for decades. Brainstorming generates ideas and helps people to come up with creative solutions to problems.

Brainstorming is often used as a catch all for all group ideation sessions. The original technique, developed by advertising executive Alex Osborn, focuses on creating a relaxed, informal approach to problem solving and it encourages people to come up with unfiltered thoughts and ideas. In other words, it’s all about creating new possibilities and news ways of thinking.

As good as it is, brainstorming isn’t some sort of magic that just happens naturally – it’s a technique that requires certain guidelines to be followed. That’s why we’ve listed 10 tips for you to get the best out of a brainstorming session.

1. You don’t have to do it all by yourself: While brainstorming on your own can be highly effective, sometimes you need others to overcome that creativity block and see things from someone else’s perspective. With group brainstorming you can take advantage of the full experience of other team members who can help take ideas to the next level.

2. Don’t force it: When you do it right, brainstorming can be great fun but a sure way to kill that fun AND dull the creative process is to expect yourself to turn up with a list of innovative and mind blowing ideas. I once worked for a newspaper where the editor-in-chief would arrange meetings with staff and suddenly demand that everyone pitch three good story ideas. Everyone would wait for their turn with their palms sweating fearing public humiliation for not coming up with a decent story idea. As you can imagine, the results weren’t great.

3. Mix up the group dynamics: Naturally, this might be challenging in a small organisation. But for bigger companies, it’s worthwhile to mix up the usual assembly of your meetings and try to invite people from different areas in the organisation. By getting a diverse group of people to work together you’ll get more of a variety of ideas.

4. Assign a moderator: The point of brainstorming is to let the conversation flow freely but appointing someone to guide the session into a productive direction is essential. Get someone to keep a check on the conversation. It’s so easy to get distracted and start talking about plans for the weekend or the new plot twists in the latest series of ‘Homeland’. I’m not suggesting off topic can’t generate great ideas but the moderator has to make sure a brainstorm session doesn’t go completely off track.

5. Set goals: Again, before you make a start, it’s vitally important to quickly discuss what you actually want out of the session. Vague or pompous goals will only result in confusion and create a lack of focus. An achievable and specific goal for a brainstorming session might be something like ‘10 new formats for a blog post’.

6. Avoid criticizing or rewarding ideas: I’m sure there are many people in your organisation with interesting ideas – they just might not have the confidence to speak up. Over analysing or underrating people’s thoughts will keep making those shrinking violets…well, shrink. Try to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable to share their thoughts, even the craziest ones.

7. Document everything: Write down all the ideas your team comes up with during the brainstorming session, even the stuff that doesn’t seem very relevant. The idea is to compile a long list of different ideas. All of them won’t be winners but might lead to new, amazing ideas in the future.

stickies right one

8. Take it out of the stuffy boardroom: Both literally and metaphorically. Go out for a walk, sit in the local café or sit down on the floor instead of at a desk. Sometimes it takes a different environment for people to think differently.

9. Use all of your brain: The left side of our brain controls logical and analytical thinking while the right side is more connected to creativity and intuitive thinking. To get most out of your brainstorming session, combine these two aspects in your thinking by offering the left side something to do as well. We at Verve Search like to brainstorm at our designated ‘Lego table’ and build mini worlds with our Lego bricks whilst generating fresh ideas for content. This might sound (and look) rather juvenile but it works!

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10. Know when to wrap up: After a certain point, it’s very likely people will start staring out of the window and the conversation will start looping and stalling before slowly dying out. It’s important to finish before this happens and move on. It might be a good idea to set a certain time limit for bouncing off ideas and after that decide which ones you’re going to use and which ones need more discussion.

Extra tip: Don’t limit your brainstorming to a certain time and space. I usually get my best ideas when I’m out running or on the train home, with plenty of time to think. This doesn’t mean you should be working all the time, but rather to become aware of those new ideas and thoughts that pop into your head. And remember to write them down!

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