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Building a Zipper to the Moon

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find group brainstorming sessions a bit intimidating. I mean, the creative team is there. And they always have the best ideas, right? And yet, here I was, attending a session on brainstorming, led by two top-tier creatives, Prudence Bovee and Steve Fleshman. The tables were set for working, with oversized post-it-notes and sharpies for capturing ideas, brainteasers for warmup, and fidgety toys. I chose the Silly Putty and formed it into a witch nose.

Pru and Steve started off with a short presentation that set some ground rules and guided us through the process. So far, so good. I was already learning a lot.

Key takeaways included:

  • Keep the group size manageable but invite supplier partners and others outside of the creative team.
  • Foster a negativity-free environment. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming!
  • Start with some group warmup exercises designed to help participants relax and break free from their fear of creativity.
  • Clearly state the goal of the brainstorming exercise.
  • Have junk food handy. Apparently, sugar, caffeine and carbs are essential to getting the creative juices flowing.

My personal favorite was to encourage “serious foolishness” that enables a blue-sky approach. When you’ve been doing this for as long as I have, it’s natural to dismiss a lot of ideas prematurely. “That’s too expensive to produce” and “we tried that before” are familiar responses. But this attitude squashes creativity. There will be plenty of time later for eliminating unrealistic ideas.

So, what is serious foolishness, and how do you foster it? The facilitator kicks the session off with a bold, outlandish idea, like building a zipper from the earth all the way to the moon. Once a gauntlet like that is laid down, it frees the rest of us to blurt out any and all ideas that occur to us.

Next, we put our newfound knowledge to use in an actual brainstorming session. We did our warmups which demonstrated that there are no wrong answers. Pru and Steve provided background about our fictitious client, the Outside the Box Society, and their goal to develop a new acquisition campaign.

The ideas flowed. Some were crazy, like the one I blurted out about virtual reality glasses. But some were pretty good, like mailing a box with all the copy on the outside.  The real magic happened when the group collaborated – or leapfrogged – to build on the ideas of others. Through it all, we stayed positive and repressed our urges to naysay.

The session wound down to a natural conclusion. We voted on our top three concepts and agreed on next steps.

The whole experience instilled confidence in me. Now I feel I have the tools to participate in – or even facilitate – a successful brainstorming session. Bring on that zipper to the moon, baby!

Eva Bowie is the Principal of Bowie Fundraising Group. Reach her at or (301) 802-5730.