You need story ideas for the next newsletter, so you call a brainstorm. Looking for art concepts for the corporate magazine? Schedule a brainstorm. Trying to figure out what to name the new company blog? Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm!

If you work in a large department or in a creative agency, you might be organizing and/or participating in a lot of brainstorms. I remember days when I was invited to so many brainstorms that I spent more time in the meetings than I spent actually coming up with ideas. It made no sense.

Brainstorms certainly have their place, but if they’re becoming too frequent or stale, consider mixing things up with these ideas.

1. Leave the building.

It can seem trite, but seriously, staring at that same whiteboard day after day can drain the creative juices. Invite people to think differently by physically being in a different space. You don’t have to go to the wilderness (though that would be awesome), but during nice times of the year, consider a picnic in the park, or go to a cool coffee shop or wine bar (if company policy permits).


2. Go virtual.

Not everyone performs well in large group discussions. Try something new and brainstorm in a shared document or online chat. (Check out these ideas for using technology to help you with virtual brainstorms.)


3. Don’t invite the managers.

For some reason, we all think it’s important to have a manager at a brainstorm. Because a manager will set us straight or help solve any problems there in the room or drop some creative bombshell that saves us all. Here’s what experience tells me: Some managers are really creative; some aren’t. But generally they’re good managers for reasons that extend beyond creativity. And they probably have tasks they should be doing other than attending brainstorms. Plus, frankly, having a manager in the room can stifle some people.

So, don’t invite the managers. See how the ideas and conversation might be different when no one is showing off for the boss — or nervous in front of her. Then, when you’ve narrowed in on two or three concepts as a result of the brainstorm, talk to your boss and get her to weigh in. That’s when her expertise is most needed, anyway.


4. Bring in fresh, unexpected faces and perspectives.

Maybe the reason you’re not getting any new ideas is because you have the same people in the room. Just because you’re talking about marketing concepts doesn’t mean only marketing people can be in the brainstorm. People from other areas of the business can be creative, too. So invite them to participate! An engineer or an accountant can give you a perspective that you might not get from anyone on your team.


5. Lead with a creative exercise.

In the interest of time, we often dive right into the meat of the meeting. We start calling for ideas right away, often expecting that people have come up with those ideas prior to arriving to the meeting. But let’s be real — a lot of the creative brainwork actually happens in that room. So, why not start the meeting with a little creative exercise to get the juices flowing. That might be interpreting a piece of art, a humorous caption-writing exercise or a guided meditation — something slightly unexpected to bring everyone into the creative headspace.


6. Re-frame the discussion.

Asking people about the types of visuals that should accompany an article or for ad campaign ideas can lock people into thinking a certain way. And often, that way is the way you always do it. If you want different ideas, ask different questions. Ask, “What do you associate with ___?” or “What’s the first thing you think of when I say ___?” Share a problem similar to the one you’re trying to solve and see what ideas you get. Sometimes, if we can get outside of our own roles, companies or industries, we have the ideas, but they won’t come to light without some help.


Your turn to share. What have you done to host a productive brainstorming session?