Saving the Spark: Developing Creative Ideas

by Mark Boulton

19 Reader Comments

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  1. Interesting article. Most people advocate against brainstorming and especially group brainstorming.

    I’ll give this a shot. Sounds like something that’s structured enough to be able to follow easily.

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  2. First, I loved the brief brief idea, and will start using it in my work.
    I found it interesting that you include the client in such a fundamental meeting. So much writing on the web focuses on excluding the client from being involved in actual idea-generation. It takes some confidence in yourself to skillfully handle a meeting like this. I have three questions:
    1) Have you had any resistance from clients to the set of “rules” you set down at the beginning of the meeting?
    2) Have you found that many clients have generated great ideas in these sessions, or is the usefulness of these meetings geared more to giving them a sense of buying into the final ideas?
    3) Does a facilitator always need special training (would these be university classes?) or are there simply special characteristics to look for when hiring someone to fill this position? Do you bring this person in just for these sessions, or is this person also a designer or project manager on your team?

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  3. Thanks for your comment, Carolyn.

    To answer your questions:

    1. Yes, I’ve had resistance. In fact, I’ve had senior management walk out of sessions like this because they’re not getting their own way. Let’s remember, potentially, there will be a lot of egos in the room, so they need to be delicately handled. A good way of doing this is laying down the law right at the beginning of a session. Specifically, I make a strong point of mentioning the ‘No Pulling Rank’ rule. This seems to put many people, particularly management, at ease.

    2. It does a few things. Firstly, they feel they are involved right from the start. It shows them you value their opinion, and also that they have valued ideas to contribute.

    I have found that a lot of clients have really good ideas once pushed and squeezed a little — which is what these sessions are all about.

    3. A trained facilitator, at least for your first couple of sessions, would be very valuable. If you don’t have access to them, or indeed if you don’t have the budget, then this is something you can do yourself. Getting people started with ideas generation isn’t the difficult bit. The difficulty comes in capturing those little sparks of ideas, knowing when to move on, and of course, having the energy to keep reinforcing those rules.

    Hope that goes some way to answer your questions.

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  4. @Srdjan Pejic: “Most people advocate against brainstorming and especially group brainstorming.”

    I would hazard a guess that those people have never experienced brainstorming done right.

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  5. I have seen to many ‘creative brainstorming’ sessions without facilitators. It basically turns into a normal meeting and exchanging ideas. But there has to be made a difference; brainstorming to think about a problem and find a common approach or brainstorming to come up with creative solutions. For the latter you definitely need a facilitator and in most cases not only the brainstorming technique but a combination of different techniques such as brainwriting, lateral thinking etc.

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  6. ‘creative’ people are not a league apart from normal, people as mentioned above a meeting turns in to a arena for idea throwing.
    The main strength i feel that ‘creative’ people have is the ability to efficiently critique and improve ideas.

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  7. Once the first burst out of the way, and all the preconceived and obvious ideas have been recorded, it’s the facilitator’s job to begin coaxing the ideas out of the attendees by using stimulus.

    This is my favorite part of creativity. There are always the obvious routes to take, the ones that will always work, but you’ve gotta get past that to get to the real gold.

    I’m designing some packaging for my band’s next CD, and the album title brings to mind very literal imagery. However, once we listed the obvious ideas and got them out of the way, we finally started to get more conceptual and really communicate the feel rather than stuff the message down people’s throats in an apparent and uninspired way.

    Great article, Mark! Even though we might subconsciously already know some of this stuff, it’s great to hear/see it verbalized by someone who can write intelligently about it. That’s what makes it stick.

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  8. A good read, Mark. I especially liked your examples of The Four R’s. So many articles are written with only the theory, and no real examples.

    Kinda off topic, but how’s the developemnt and design for Flow coming along?

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  9. Thanks Mark.

    I like the example. There are also many other ways to go about squeezing inspiration.

    More often then not i do get sparks of inspiration from nowhere but i don’t wait for them to happen.

    Thanks again.

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  10. I call it "creativity on demand".

    I find, too, that there are obvious presentational scenarios, and then there are the more creative approaches that may or may not satisfy the needs of the project. It all depends on what you’re trying to "say" and what might be best ways to present that.

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  11. I think it’s time to sign-up for ALA, after snooping around for years, If someone questioned me why did I signed up, all credits goes to Mark :)

    Great article!

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  12. I like your article, but in my opinion the real creative ideas you can’t enforce. Sometimes they come into your mind when you even think about totally different things. They just appear in front of your eyes, you only have to see them.

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  13. I would never have guessed that the blog I started a little over two years ago would still be going strong today.  I’m not a writer, and I thought I’d run out of ideas. But I always seem to be able to come up with three or four new articles each month, keeping the content fresh.  I guess when you’re passionate about what you’re doing, the creative jucies keep flowing.  I care about quality, and I find myself looking for ways to improve, which is what brought me to your website.  Thank you for doing what you do.  Solar John

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  14. My boss takes the conversation ball and runs with it.  How do I tell her to shut up?

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  15. Thanks for the design inspiration. I read a great article today that was similar from a site called creative something. It talks about the fallacy of designers to always need perfection. While the creative geniuses of the world (Einstein, Edison, etc) have created garbage after garbage over and over before creating magic. It’s more about execution, and details.

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  16. tHANKS..Good article

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  17. Thank you for this post. In our branche (Fair and Event Design) all participants are working every day at striking ideas to catch the attention of visitors. One likes to take a look at the ideas of others. The pressure is very large and most of all you can not really expecte on the feedback of your audience

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  18. I think your article is great, first article I have read since joining and it added instant value. Brainstorming and idea throwing is so important, two heads are always better than one when it comes to this.

    “Stephanie”:http://www.mikesmanzanita.com

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  19. Thanks for the great article.

    I’ve always enjoyed brainstorming sessions the most when the problem to be solved has been clearly defined. This is something that you touched on in the section ‘A brief brief’. I find it helps to keep the group focused, tangent but related ideas to be explored, and ultimately allows something of value to be created that solves the problem.

    As a creative ‘idea generator’ I’m not afraid of a little process when it comes to idea generation – going back to the old adage of being ‘creative within constrains’.

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