Got a brainstorm session coming up? Before you start, define your parameters; deadline, cost, quality and desired outcome. Then, and only then, will you be ready to brainstorm.
This post originally ran in May 2009. What with the beginning of the school year, and perhaps business planning for next year, I am running it again for anyone looking ahead, pondering possibilities.
Four basic steps will help you wrap your brain around any project, whether you’re an expert, or venturing into unknown territory.
Every project has parameters. Before you jump into brainstorming or negotiations, stop and capture the key info that will impact the rest of the project. What’s the budget? When are the key due dates? What’s the true purpose of the project? What would ideal results look like? Is everyone on the same page, with the same vision? Also, is there anything that can’t be changed? If you’re renovating a house, are you tied to roof color? If you’re planning an event, are you tied to a specific date or time?
Now that you’ve defined the most critical parameters of the project, you are clear to brainstorm. And you should! Entertain options. Ask for ideas. Compare notes. Sketch your designs, mock up your colors. Compare them side by side. Get feedback. This stage is also known as concepting.
If there are a lot of decisions to be made, or a lot of people to please, give people a chance to start broad, then narrow down. Your client, your team, your co-workers, what have you, will be more confident in the final choice if they’ve had a chance to see that final decisions were made via a process of elimination.
Have a semi-finals, then a quarter-finals. Just like on American Idol, it’s hard to know who your favorite is until you’ve seen all the choices. The better the options, the more time you need to compare. As in, the best options are the ones that have stuck with you from the beginning. You’ve developed a sense of familiarity with them. You’ve realized their pros and cons, and whether you’re willing to live with them.
Hopefully, the final decision is between two excellent options. But you want your client, friends, whomever this is for, to LOVE the end result. They will, if they’ve had a chance to participate along the way.
At this stage, you’ve committed to a specific vision. Now it’s time to get practical. Check availability, negotiate. Problem solve. You may have to make last minute changes. If you’ve done a good job of concepting, you’ll be able to make quick, yet informed decisions about what can and can’t be changed. Nothing ever goes as planned, but if you’ve got a SPECIFIC, WELL DEFINED VISION, and BUY-IN, WITH COMMITMENT, then you are well on your way to making your vision a reality. This stage is also known as pre-production.
You’re in the kitchen now. You’ve got the groceries, and if anything’s been forgotten or gone stale, it’s too late to send for more. The moment is do or die, and you will DO. If it’s party time, you’re pouring the drinks. If it’s a building renovation, your paint brush is in the paint. Put on the best show you can. If you’ve done your prep work, it will be great. This stage is also known as production. If you’re in film, it includes post-production.