Brainstorming has gotten a bad reputation, mostly because few people understand that it takes more than just shoving people into a conference room and telling them “Do some brainstorming for our next big idea! It’ll be fun!” The chances of either outcome—the “next big idea” or fun—are poor.
But for those who understand how to set the stage for a brainstorming session, how to pick the participants, and how to guide it, brainstorming can be a fruitful idea generator. Stefan Mumaw and Wendy Oldfield have written Caffeine for the Creative Team: 150 Exercises to Inspire Group Innovation to help teams in the idea business make the most of the time they spend together generating ideas.
Mumaw (a web designer and “Director of All That Rocks” at the REIGN ad agency in Kansas City, Missouri) and Oldfield (owner of the design firm Vekay Creative in Costa Mesa, California) provide some guidelines for brainstorming—for example, limit the number of participants (4 to 7), create a diverse team and invite conflict, give participants a chance to prepare—but the bulk of the book is devoted to 150 small imaginative exercises, or “matches,” designed to ignite the creative fire within the team. They suggest group sizes for each of the exercises (two, three, four or more), but most of them could be adapted for any size group, with a bit of imagination.
Here’s a random sampling:
- The Remote’s in the Crisper: You and a partner have to come up with twenty ways to use one thousand refrigerators, but you can’t use them as refrigerators.
- Spacious 100-Cubic-Foot Cubicle with Breakfast Nook: Write a real-estate-style listing for a partner’s work space.
- Mold That Cricket: Your team must select a theme (space, the wild west, your office, pirates, etc.), and then use modeling clay to create a claymation-style character for that theme.
Some of the best material comes from interviews sprinkled throughout the book with different creative individuals. For example, Chris Duh of Hallmark’s Kaleidoscope offers this advice on roles and vision: “Anyone, on any team, needs to know what their role is, what they’re working toward and what constitutes success on a daily and visionary level.”
On collaboration, Justin Ahrens, of the Chicago design firm Rule 29, says “One thing I learned starting out this way was if the project was well defined in the beginning and we were able to trust each other to do our parts, that’s when it worked the best. The projects that I micromanaged or were loosely defined, these projects didn’t turn out as well. You have to trust the process and the team within it.”
One minor gripe I had with the book: No two pages were designed the same way. While this added visual interest to the book, on a few pages the background color made the text hard to read. White text on a brown background doesn’t do much for my eyes.
Overall, Caffeine for the Creative Team is a fun read, loaded with plenty of sparks to help stimulate your team, and insights on collaborative creativity from people who know what they’re talking about.
Caffeine for the Creative Team: 150 Exercises to Inspire Group Innovation, by Stefan Mumaw and Wendy Lee Oldfield
How Books, April 2009
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