By Alex Varricchio
As things change digital marketing will increasingly become the driver for many companies. With this comes the need for your team to be at the brainstorming table constantly developing new ideas for the next project.
As with many teams there are a few personalities who will always take the lead at these sessions, while others will defer to the most senior in the room. We all have different brainstorm styles, but one thing is common – sometimes we find ourselves in a brainstorming rut and we revert to the same styles.
One of the main reasons for this is that in most workplaces, seniority and responsibility go hand in hand. The longer you have been with a company or in your field of work, the more likely it is for you to be entrusted with more and more innovation responsibilities. It is often up to those with the most experience to solve the biggest problems. But a person’s years of experience do not necessarily make her the most creative. Rarely do we acknowledge that years of experience come with both wisdom and limitations. If that person is used to doing things a certain way and sees no need to change a formula, she isn’t likely to do it.
Increase your diversity and break out of that rut by taking on or assigning some new roles in your next session.
The Flag Bearer
This person is often the owner of the challenge, making this a difficult role to take on as a participant. The Flag Bearer can clearly define the problem and take others on a journey to solve it, painting a picture of where the problem has come from and the grand potential of where a solution may lead. The Flag Bearer inspires others to take action, bringing the most value through passion, not necessarily for the contribution of ideas. This role does not always have to be taken on by the individual leading on the project but anyone on the team who has the ability to bring a team together and inspire action.
This person may be the quiet one in the room. The Thinker’s problem-solving process starts with mulling over the problem, researching it, reflecting on it, and exploring different perspectives. Brainstorms are used to take in new information, but the Thinker’s best ideation is often done independently. The Thinker can easily support an idea with a well-thought-out rationale. You can embrace this role by leveraging the background information provided when you apply to a session. It may be worthwhile to assign this role before the sessions starts and give enough time for the Thinker to explore ideas independently before joining the team brainstorm session.
This person can think on their feet. They thrive when the pressure is high and timelines are tight. In the brainstorm room, the Inventor is often the one vibrating with ideas that they cannot wait to unleash on the world. The Inventor isn’t afraid to push for big ideas or multiple concepts, but they don’t always invest the time to fully understand the finer details surrounding the challenge. Taking on this role doesn’t mean arriving ill-prepared to your session, but rather embracing the big question: What if?
This person is the marathon runner of concept or product development with the stamina to shepherd a project through every phase. In the brainstorm room, the Producer gets the group to build on promising, actionable ideas. When the dust settles, they continue to test out the chosen idea and explore different applications. When it’s time to execute and others may have grown bored with the project, the Producer still has the passion and energy to bring the idea to life. This is another difficult role to take on as a one-time brainstorm participant but try to keep the end goal in mind and consider what might keep the momentum going as time goes on.
Every leader wants active brainstorming meetings where team members are sharing their insights and creativity to solve problems. When trying to mix up your brainstorming style, or if you find a role lacking in a brainstorm, consider taking on a different role, or assign different roles to participants for each brainstorm session. Get big personalities to try the Thinker role, get the senior leader to become a Flag Bearer and so on. This will increase diversity of thought and style on your team and put you on your way to delivering a few new ideas for each project.
Tenured staff are limited by hindsight, so look to new people to get new ideas. The restriction on creativity here is our proximity to our own experience. The more you know about a subject or organization, the more your thinking can be constrained. For example, it took an intern working at Shreddies to come up with a creative campaign that revived the brand in a way that no one more senior could have imagined. It took a group of kids brainstorming ideas on water conservation to develop an entirely new sidewalk system for the city of Amsterdam, one that so impressed civil engineers they decided to start prototyping.
While you can’t shut off your proximity to your own experience, you can create an environment that encourages the new blood to contribute ideas. We’re not just talking about young staff; anyone from a different department or background or a new employee who came from a different organization or industry will look at your company’s problems in a way you never can.
While leading UpHouse’s nimble marketing agency, Alex Varricchio and his team have provided over $300,000 of in-kind and pro bono marketing support to not-for-profit organizations. Alongside earning international and national marketing awards for the agency’s work, Alex and co-founder of UpHouse, Kiirsten May, have published a book, The Proximity Paradox, released internationally this year, and developed a crowd-sourced brainstorming tool, Crainstorm, championing good ideas through the collision of diverse viewpoints and collaboration. He also won CGLCC’s National Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
With 12 years of agency experience, Alex started UpHouse in 2017. The agency is devoted to elevating in-house marketing teams and the brands they promote. Noticing a trend in businesses to agency work in-house, Alex created a collaborative business model based on filling in the gaps – not replacing in-house talent or duplicating efforts.
Alex is a tenured strategy and creative director and has worked with a range of national clients including Cargill, BDC, Technation, Robinson, Telus and many others. His experience in lead nurturing and business development helps him create highly effective marketing for clients.