Posts Tagged ‘brainstorming’

Brainstorm Gumbo


Brainstorming is a journey of discovery rather than idea creation. It doesn’t have to be awkward and filled with pressure. I have brainstormed with many different people and teams over the past 15 years. Some experiences have been successful, a few were flops, but most have had a lot of untapped potential that never made it to the table. I want to help bring a little nourishment to your team with my Brainstorm Gumbo.


Brainstorming, like gumbo, has some elements that need to be done in order and some that don’t. One common mistake I find is when people try to “organize” a creative meeting. Some structure and preparation are good, however, the outline needs to be flexible and expectations should be reserved for the end result. Brainstorming is a journey. I’ll expand on these thoughts at a later date. We are going to break this down in four parts: Roux, Ingredients, Rice, and Extras.

Roux is foundational. [Ideas start with conversation]

You can’t mistake the smell. I remember smelling it and walking into the kitchen with my mom stirring flour and oil in a cast iron skillet. Oh yeah baby….gumbo tonight. Roux is the thickening base – the foundation to a good gumbo. If you don’t start with a good roux you shouldn’t have started at all.

Conversation is the “roux” of brainstorming. I have been to so many creative meetings where everyone is expected to open their mouths out of the gate and let the creative thoughts flow. Some of those meetings have produced way more ideas than you can actually manage. Then you have to whittle them down hurting someone’s feelings along the way and killing some great ideas that may never surface again. These same meetings usually have some prep time and the expectation of bringing your 5 ideas with you. Well, I really hate putting a lot of thought and research into one idea that no one likes, much less another 4. Preparation is good, but don’t stress over bringing a bag of goodies with you. Ideas come (Again…more at a later time). Other times these meetings have started with awkward silence because either no one was prepared, no one was actually creative, or no one was brave enough to speak first.

Ideas start with conversation. Tell me about what you want to get across. Tell me about what you want to accomplish. Let me respond. Let me ask questions. Ask me questions. Let me challenge the core idea. Solidify the idea in your brain. Help me understand. Better yet… let me discover as I listen to you… and to myself. As we enter a conversation about the end result, ideas begin to grow. You don’t have to rule out bad ideas because good ideas rise to the top. Suddenly people who are too scared to speak open their mouths and make sounds because they are entering a conversation and not being exposed as a non-creative (btw – while synergy is important, anyone can add value to a creative meeting {more on that… well you know}).

Within this conversation emotions surface, ideas emerge and the creative process begins.

Ingredients determine potential. [Ideas expand with creativity]

Do you want seafood or chicken and sausage gumbo? Do you like okra in yours? What about boiled eggs? Gumbo has several variations – many of which I will not touch. Even within these variations are even more options and ingredients that can be included. While some ingredients may be universal, the type of gumbo you choose determines what possible ingredients can be included.

Creativity lives within the ingredients. When you build on the conversation, ideas begin to grow and creativity takes over. Light bulbs go off and hands raise. People get on the edge of their seats waiting to jump in (I love this part). You begin to hear stuff like, “Hey, what if we…”, “Yeah! And you know what else…”, “Wait a second, we could…”.

Ideas expand with creativity. This is the part of brainstorming where ideas are like popcorn. But, the ideas, while some can get out there, are conceived out of the conversation and usually are strung together instead of several different ideas. The ideas that rise to the top get bigger and/or sharper.

The honing process takes over at some point and you take the expanded ideas and whittle away until the idea takes shape. The craziness you just experienced comes back to reality and then (my fav) ideas that seemed out of reach become possible. Remember this is a journey of discovery. The right idea is out there, you just have to find it.

Rice makes all the difference. [Ideas need timely development]

I love gumbo. I love the expectation of gumbo. When my wife tells me she cooking gumbo, I can think of nothing else all day (a little exaggerated for effect). As much as I love gumbo, I equally hate when the gumbo is ready… but the rice is not. You can’t rush rice. You can’t turn the heat up and you don’t want to eat it under cooked.

The second and maybe the biggest mistake I see is with the development of ideas. 1- No one develops it at all until a week out and then it’s rushed. 2- Responsibilities are handed out, but the work we just accomplished as a team is now up to individuals to carry out.

Ideas need timely development. And developing ideas is best in (smaller) teams. You do not have to regather the entire creative universe to develop an idea, however, the right 2 or 3 usually works better than 1. I’ve written scripts myself – and they worked well, but the greatest scripts have been with someone else and it’s a lot more enjoyable and a lot less stress. Everyone should leave the meeting knowing what is expected and when. And I don’t mean a general understanding. Get specific with expectations and deadlines. Follow up with good communication. If something is due in 2 weeks, don’t wait until day 13 to call Bob and see if he ordered the daisies.

Like the rice, you can start it early and let it sit in the cooker, but if you wait too late, everything will be stopped in it’s tracks.

Extras make it taste just right. [Ideas need reflection]

My dad puts his potato salad (“you say potato I say potat…uh” that doesn’t work with text does it?) in his bowl of gumbo. I don’t even eat potato salad. However, I’ve never seen a bowl of gumbo that couldn’t use a little Tony Chachere and gumbo file (fee-lay). I like mine a little saltier than most.

Ideas need reflection. This can be before, during and even after the rice. Reflection may not be the best word, but you have to stay open to the right touch that turns a good idea into a great one. This can come at any time. My wife calls it “The Constant Storm” with me. I really should stop letting my brain spill over at inappropriate times… like 3 in the morning when she is sleeping. But it’s true that our minds never stop and you never know when the icing will hit you.


If you know gumbo then you know that it’s even better after sitting in the fridge a day or so. Try out my recipe and you’ll find the same here. The creative process should be fun and productive. If it’s not, change the process or do something that is. I plan to write more about about brainstorming, but that’s all for now. Thanks for reading.