Ideaerobics, fuck yeah
Many creatives hate brainstorms and I can understand why.
You get thrown into a group of people with mixed roles – it’s not they day job to come up with ideas – and everyone looks to you to start spewing ideas.
It must be like being an off-duty comedian having dinner with people that expect him to be non-stop funny.
Don’t be surprised when creatives struggle with the heightened pressure and exposure of their sometimes illusive craft.
But brainstorms can be incredibly useful, and fun, if done well. After being a participant and host of hundreds of brainstorms ranging from awful to awesome, some techniques seemed to work again and again. Many of these techniques were stolen from brainstorm masterminds Mark Pollard and Jonathan Pease. So I put it all together and called it “Ideaerobics”. Here are the main principles:
1. Short, sharp, stimulated exercises
Ideaerobics is named after its structure: 1 hour consisting of 5 x 5-minute group exercises with time to share ideas in between.
At Tongue, we created a stack of these little exercises and pick 5 that seem the appropriate and inappropriate, depending on the brief.
For example of the exercises, check out the Ideaerobics presentation below – this one was run at the AdSchool BIG (Big Ideas Generator) course.
While we’ve got tried & tested techniques, half the fun was experimenting to see what worked and what failed miserably. If you experiment, please share and let us know how it went!
Some inspiration for making Ideaerobics exercises:
Brian Eno & Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies. My favourites:
- “Allow an easement” (which lets you tear down one wall of a brief)
- “Go to an extreme, move back to a more comfortable place” (like, ‘Get Fired’)
- “Forced with a choice, do both” (forcing you to mash two concepts together)
- “Use an old idea” (steal and crowbar something else)
- “Take someone’s advice” (like ‘Corporate Takeover’)
De Bono’s Lateral Thinking & Idea Generation Tools, especially:
- Random Entry – take something unrelated and make an idea about it
- Challenge – ask why, why, why do we do things a certain way
2. Everyone is equally creative
Everyone is treated as being equally creative and everyone carries equal responsibility for making ideas.
Making everyone dress ridiculously is a fun and effective leveller. And aerobics gear looks ridiculous, so I’d recommend either getting everyone to bring some athletic wear, or to supply leotards & sweatbands. Flip Flop Leos has a fantastic range of leotard styles & sizes, for a reasonable price.
3. Make it competitive
One unexpected thing I’ve noticed from good brainstorms is how competition helps.
Split people into groups of 3-4 for each exercise, and ask them to only present their top 2 ideas after each exercise. You’ll notice two things:
A. People push harder for both quantity and quality of ideas, and are more proud to show them off. In normal brainstorms, people struggle to come up with anything. In Ideaerobics, you get groups begging to present their 3rd and 4th ideas as well.
B. Groups steal ideas from each other, and make them better. Make sure each group is in earshot of eachother. Sometime consciously, sometimes subconsciously, they’ll feed off the ideas that other groups are discussing.
Don’t let the competitiveness kill the fun. The music and leotards should take care of that.
4. Quantity over quality
Make it clear you’re after lots of ideas, and no such thing as a bad idea. If you’ve got 12 Ideaerobicizers, that’s 4 groups of 3, presenting 2 ideas each across 5 exercises. That’s 40 ideas in an hour…if you only count what people present.
But plenty of good ideas get left unpresented on the floor, so make sure people capture ideas clearly:
- 1 idea per A4 sheet, writtten in a fat marker
- idea name: 2-4 words
- idea summary: <10 words
- a visual for the idea (optional)
After the session, review your massive stack of ideas, pick the best 6 and re-write them.
5. Every idea is owned by the group
Once an idea leaves a person’s lips, they’re giving up all ‘ownership’ of the idea. This isn’t about IP (there’s no legally-protected IP in ideas anyway), this is about allowing the group to take the idea in other, unexpected directions. Forget about “integrity” of your idea. It’s not yours anymore. If people didn’t get the core of the idea, give it a different name and present it again – with a clearer description.
6. No music, no Ideaerobics
Music is an essential ingredient in Ideaerobics becuase:
- It keeps things fun
- It creates a sense of urgency (like musical chairs)
- It imports external stimulus for ideas
Make a playlist, with 1-2 songs for each exercise. People will get different things from different music, so pick a wide range of songs.
UPDATE: For lazy IJs (Idea Jockeys), check out the Official Ideaerobics Spotify Playlist here.
This Ideaerobics class was fun for the AdSchool BIG (Big Ideas Generator) course in Sydney, 2013. It contains 2 warm-up and 5 idea exercises.