4 minute read

A master idea man shares some creative brainstorming techniques

Lavonne Boutcher
Posted by Lavonne Boutcher on Jun 28, 2017 6:00:00 AM

Jim McCafferty is a former magician and current idea ringmaster at JMP Creative – the California design company he started in 1991. Every day, Jim and his team face the daunting task of generating creative ideas for ad campaigns or toy designs. To accomplish that, Jim has developed some unique and slightly off-the-wall methods of brainstorming. And he’s often asked to share those techniques with other companies looking to jump-start their creativity.

Jim is a self-taught brainstorming expert who thinks most of us do it all wrong. Here’s what experience has taught him about doing it right.

Do the prep work

You can’t walk into a room with a group of people without a plan and expect creative magic to happen. Great ideas take work and meticulous planning. Jim sees lack of planning as one of the top reasons most brainstorming sessions end up being a big waste of time. To be effective, brainstorming needs a solid foundation and a clear purpose.

Jim usually works with participants at the outset to establish objectives so everyone is “thinking with the end in mind.” He then makes sure those objectives are written down and prominently displayed for everyone to see.

He uses Nureva visual collaboration solutions for brainstorming and often comes to sessions with creative content preloaded on a Span™ Workspace canvas to get the discussion started. With his product development team, for example, he populates the interactive digital canvas with large images of existing products related to the focus of the day’s brainstorming. Then, he adds creative stimuli to get people thinking in new directions as they sort, mix and add notes to the various images and sketches. He says it’s a highly visual and efficient way to get as many ideas as possible swirling around in their heads.

Creative brainstorming techniques - Do the prep work

Jim also uses Span Workspace for what he calls “ideation workouts,” where he does some planning and thinking alone before facilitating a session with his team. “It helps the thinking process because I can create visual boards and tools to help everyone process the approach to how we’re going to do the exercise,” he explains.

Be unpredictable

Since the company relies on a near-constant flow of ideas, Jim spends a lot of time thinking up “unexpected ways” to stimulate the creative minds at JMP. Why unexpected? It’s because Jim thinks creative ideas thrive on shock value.

The human brain’s ability to identify and act upon patterns may be crucial to our survival, but it’s deadly to brainstorming. “Pattern recognition is horrible for being creative,” explains Jim, “because you immediately go to these deeply ingrained patterns way too quickly.”

That’s why Jim tries to shake things up by bringing unusual props like puppies, alligators and stunt men to his brainstorming sessions. One day he brought in some slot machines and put different images related to the brainstorming session on all the dials. Whenever participants pulled the handle, they got a different mix of random elements they then had to use to come up with an entirely new idea.

Creative brainstorming techniques - Be unpredictable

He says when he brings unusual things into the meeting room, people may not initially understand how they relate to the task at hand. But they eventually stop trying to make sense of it and start thinking “crazy and wacky” thoughts that sometimes turn into brilliant ideas.

Make it fun

When it comes to being creative, Jim thinks fun is serious business. He says many brainstorming sessions fail because the participants aren’t enjoying themselves. “If you’re not having fun, then you’re probably doing it wrong,” he says, adding the more fun brainstorming is the more productive it will be.

The reason is biological: when you’re having fun your endorphins kick in. You start to feel good, and that works wonders when you’re trying to generate creative ideas because you’re more open to new ways of thinking. He says when people are having fun they’re more apt to listen to and play off each other’s ideas.

Creative brainstorming techniques - Make it fun

At JMP, fun starts with the physical workplace, from the conference room designed like a spaceship to the submarine-themed meeting space. One of Jim’s favorite creative brainstorming techniques is to bring different types of performers into the sessions to help his team “think beyond their own world.” He also says it’s important to get people moving, so he incorporates fun games that include some physical activity. This energizes participants and provides them with a “multidimensional ideation experience.”

He’s put his more fun, greater creativity theory to the test many times. He knows it works because the ideas generated by the JMP team have resulted in billions of dollars in product for its customers by simply making the ideation process less strenuous and more enjoyable.

Find your own recipe for creativity

Jim also recommends finding a versatile technology tool that can support the type of brainstorming you need and the kind of corporate culture your organization has. He likes the flexibility in Nureva collaboration solutions – how they can be used by any company any way it chooses “like mixing ingredients in a recipe to create something new.”

He acknowledges JMP’s playful approach to creative brainstorming is not for everyone, but he says every company can benefit from taking steps to fine-tune its brainstorming process to be able to generate better ideas that lead to more innovative products and services for its customers.

Topics: Ideation Creativity