How many hours have you spent in brainstorms, workshops, idea generation sessions or, God forbid, Disruption Days or Media Arts workshops? It must be hundreds and that’s not counting the time spent painstakingly preparing stimulus, dressing the room etc.
I’ll bet though, you can’t think of a single, genuinely good idea that came out of nay of them. All that eye wateringly expensive, stage managed time wasted.
Naturally, agencies will claim that all sorts of Damascene moments have been created in these monumental wastes of time - and I’m sure there have been rare miracle moments when something good has emerged - but the reality is there is little good that comes out of brainstorms.
Mostly you’re left with a series of half baked ideas that aren’t any good, or some stupid ‘out there’ stuff that are just unworkable. The master moderator therefore plans the session with the guile and cunning of Wile E Coyote and steers everything towards a pre-planned Eureka moment, or post rationalises a genuinely good idea to death, to show how it was born straight of the crap brainstorm output, when of course if wasn’t anything of the sort.
Academic research has shown again and again that brainstorms produce idea that are much poorer in quality than working alone or in a focused team. You’re much more likely to have a good idea making the tea (mostly down to working like this).
In case you’re wondering why these sessions stifle creativity, there’s ’social loafing’..where the group dynamic lets individuals doss around, a natural nervousness of being judges for ideas and holding back, the agenda and ‘one person at a time’ getting in the way of spontaneity and ideas never getting voiced because you’re waiting for someone else to finish. There’s the dangers of groups think where we conform to the prevailing mood - usually polarised as ultra conservatism or rampant wackiness, both of which are useless. Then there’s the simple fact that the pressure to have ideas usually means you can’t have any - a little like trying to force yourself to sleep.
So why on God’s earth do agencies persist with these wasteful drain on time and resources? Fine ifthey don’t know the academic evidence that proves they’re useless, but surely the only evidence they need is the sheer lack of decent ideas. To be honest, it lies in underlying crime of selling the process rather than the ideas, that also leads to wrong-headedness about the value of creativity itself.
The ugly truth is that they’re pretty good for client bonding and a great day out of the office for them. They like being at the agency and pretending to be creative etc, for a little while it’s nice to pretend to be an innovator rather than a box ticker.
It cements the proprietary processes agencies are so delighted to sell. From Disruption Days to mind numbing exercises built on Millward Brown’s Brand Equity Pyramid - a wasteful process built on a wasteful process you could say.
Even more disturbing is the nagging feeling that agencies like these sessions because they mask either a lack of creativity or a lack of faith in it. It’s much ‘easier’ to do a workshop and then develop the mediocre ideas, rubber stamped by all and sundry, than actually have to think, not to mention have to persuade clients to buy into properly good work.
There are probably some very mediocre planners who have risen quickly by being great moderators and process managers, not mention quite brilliant planners who haven’t because they’re better at thinking than being a performing seal.