Six Tips for Better Newsroom Brainstorming

Now, more than ever, each person in a news organization needs to be a innovator. Not just about your story, your section or your style — but about new products and processes that can serve audiences and strengthen businesses.

API’s Newspaper Next project frames it one way: thinking about “jobs to be done.” What jobs do people want done for them? How do you, in your organization, conjure up the kind of ideas that folks who dream up iPhone apps deliver? How do you think about new ways to deliver information and connect with audiences?

That kind of conjuring is tough work, especially if you believe you’ll never be good at it. Is that you, or folks on your team? As a boss, do you hesitate to engage everyone in brainstorming ideas and solutions because it’s not comfortable for you? You’re not alone. But there’s help.

This year marks a quarter-century since Roger von Oech first published his fun book on creativity, “A Whack on the Side of the Head.” The author identifies 10 of what he calls “mental locks” that interfere with creative thinking. I’ve added mini-summaries of von Oech’s advice for unlocking them.

Mental Locks (from “A Whack on the Side of the Head”)

  1. The Right Answer
    We think there’s only one. Keep going, there are often many right ones!
  2. That’s Not Logical
    Try thinking metaphorically instead of literally.
  3. Follow the Rules
    Don’t let sacred cows trample creativity.
  4. Be Practical
    Ask “what if” questions about wild possibilities.
  5. Play is Frivolous
    Loosen up; it can free your mind.
  6. That’s Not My Area
    Your lack of expertise may actually be a benefit, leading you to ask and explore without built-in assumptions.
  7. Don’t Be Foolish
    If being a fool means avoiding the pull of groupthink, we need more fools.
  8. Avoid Ambiguity
    Don’t be afraid of broad concepts as you imagine possibilities; you can refine them later.
  9. To Err is Wrong
    Fear of failure can paralyze creative thinking; fight the fear.
  10. I’m Not Creative
    Saying it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; give yourself license to try.

If you’d like to conduct a brainstorming session with your team, here are some tips I’d offer:

  • Define the target clearly. What problem do you want to solve? What challenge?
  • Reveal known obstacles and limits. Are there budget, staffing, legal issues? Share them but encourage people not to let them kill creativity.
  • Help people work comfortably. Some people prefer time to think before the meeting, others love spontaneity. Providing an agenda before the meeting can be helpful to all.
  • Keep higher ranking or more outspoken folks from dominating. Consider breaking into small discussion groups, then regroup for reports.
  • Set ground rules: Expect civility (no: “that’s stupid!”). Ensure that all voices are heard, that crazy ideas are welcome and cows aren’t that sacred.
  • Be honest. Don’t call it a brainstorming session if you already know exactly what you want and you’re just trying to get buy-in for your own idea. People who feel manipulated remember it and withdraw.

Let’s say your brainstorming leads you to identify an idea you want to pitch to your boss. Now you need another set of skills — the art of the pitch. I’ve written before about selling your ideas, succinctly. As you advance an idea for an innovation, you need to be businesslike. Do some additional fact-finding to strengthen that germ of an idea.

Take a cue from John Yemma, who became editor of the Christian Science Monitor in July. He’s leading the transformation of the paper from its deep print roots to a digital future, as the paper stops publishing a daily hard copy edition in April 2009. The paper will expand its online presence and offer a weekend print edition.

Yemma tells me that he’s been impressed with the great ideas he’s heard from staff members in all departments. He believes in saying “yes” to as many ideas as possible, encouraging creativity and innovation with his optimism and enthusiasm. That said, the people with the best chance of getting their ideas off the ground have done some homework along with the brainstorming.

Click on the video to hear John Yemma’s advice for pitching your ideas:

If you’re receiving this via e-mail newsletter and have trouble viewing the video, please use the video player on the SuperVision page.

So, dare to brainstorm, dream and ask “what if?” Then be prepared to project “how much” that dream might cost and might earn.

What kind of brainstorming have you and your team been doing lately? Join our Leadership & Management group to add a post that shares your tips.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.