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Creative brainstorms don't work. Here's why.

Monday 08, Feb 2021

Written by Andy Pontin


It’s the meeting invite everyone dreads: "Group brainstorm to generate breakthrough creative ideas on Project X. 45 minutes in the Inspiration Room. Lunch provided".

Nothing good ever comes from these meetings. 

That's partly because any room called the 'Inspiration Room' is likely to be anything but inspirational, and a curly tuna sandwich is no springboard for creative brilliance.

But it's mostly because this simply isn't how creativity works.

Creative development processes that consistently deliver great ideas are based on three creative truths:

1. Creativity is Iterative

Ideas aren't born fully formed and robust. In fact they are mostly sickly little things, fragile and in need of sustenance. This sustenance comes in the form of commentary, feedback, suggestion and criticism.

If the idea is good enough, it'll take on board this sustenance, grow into a bigger and better version of itself, and then go through this feedback process again and again until it either prospers or dies.

There's an old saying used in brainstorms: "There's no such thing as a bad idea". That's bullshit - most ideas are bad ideas, and the trick is to identify and improve the good ones through this iterative process.

2. Creativity is Collaborative and Inclusive 

Creativity is a team sport, and everyone can play. 

That's not to say that everyone is great at blue-sky thinking. But you might be awesome at building on other people's ideas, at providing context and stimulus for the creative process, or simply great at identifying the weak points in an idea that need further work. 

These inputs are just as important as the original idea itself.

3. Creativity is not Linear

Ever wondered why you often solve problems when you're taking a shower or walking the dog or cooking dinner? It's because the subconscious part of your brain (the powerful part) is quietly chewing over the issue whilst your conscious brain is making sure you don't lose a finger whilst chopping the carrots.

Creativity is therefore a series of 'great unpredictable leaps' which are hard to plan and schedule. These leaps certainly can't be scheduled for a prescribed 45-minute session in the Inspiration Room.

And that's why creative brainstorms don't work. They are the antithesis of these creative truths.

Another truth is that creativity can be learnt. The idea that 'you're either creative or you're not' is nonsense. By understanding how creativity works, and how individuals contribute to the process, everyone can improve their creative capacity and potential.

And, funnily enough, we've developed a short course with PRIA where you'll learn exactly that! Details here: https://bit.ly/PRIAxCompton 


About the author:

Andy Pontin - Head of Marketing, Compton School

Andy has been at the forefront of commercial creativity with a 30-year track record in blue-chip advertising agencies from London to Melbourne and Sydney. He has overseen the digital transformation of major advertising networks in Australia (M&C Saatchi and Clemenger BBDO) and been a successful CEO for nearly two decades.