In part one of this mini-series I talked about the things you need to do in preparation of a name brainstorm. It’s not rocket science: get briefed, get the right team, get prepared and get inspired.
First I want to tell you a little bit about brainstorming. Brainstorming is a team effort. It’s not about which player can come up with the best ideas – it’s about how the team will generate the best results. Teams generally work best when they have a smart strategy and a good captain: the creative facilitator. Apart from setting up and running the program the creative facilitator has two basic strategic responsibilities:
- Take away any barriers and inhibitions that could stop the creation and free flow of new ideas within the team.
- Help the teams expand its collective creativity and brainpower by providing it with the right (sometimes unexpected) impulses.
Counterintuitive as it may seem to some: a brainstorm benefits greatly by adhering to a few simple rules, regardless if there are just three people participating or three-hundred.
Basic Rules of Engagement
Here are five rules I always lay down and make sure everyone agrees upon at the beginning of any brainstorm:
- Rule #1: Quality comes from Quantity – You will be writing down a LOT of names. Most of them will suck. Some of them will be so-so. Only a few of them will be good or even brilliant. Do not hesitate to write down any idea that pops to mind.
- Rule #2: Postpone Judgment or Selection Mechanisms - During a brainstorm a lot of ideas that simply suck or make no sense at all will be brought to the table. Hear something idiotic, wrong or impossible? Don’t comment or critique but retaliate creatively – by coming up with a different idea.
- Rule #3: Associate, Associate, Associate – Use any previous ideas (even the ones that suck) or other stimuli at your disposal (you did bring a few dictionaries and a stack of magazine did you?) to freely associate and come up with new ones.
- Rule #4: Speak Up and Write Clearly – Rules 1 to 3 only kick in if and when you freely share whatever ideas or notions you may have freely and clearly. Even the half baked ones can serve as creative stepping stones for others. So speak loudly, repeat yourself if need be and write down in big, readable print letters.
- Rule #5: Create a Safe Zone – Creativity is hard work. You don’t want any distractions. Basically you need to put a ‘do not disturb sign’ on the door and have everyone turn off their mobile phones.
The rules should remain in effect for the entire duration of the brainstorm. In principle the entire group is responsible for adhering to the above rules – but I recommend the creative facilitator to be actively in charge of enforcing them.
The moment you invite people to a brand name brainstorm they will automatically start making a mental list of new and existing names they like and names they don’t like. Some of them will even know what should be the killer name before coming to the brainstorm. They will arrive at your brainstorm with this extra baggage.
Before you do anything else you need to clear your team of any prejudices and existing ideas that may occupy their minds. An effective way to do this is to have everyone write down whatever names and ideas they already had (the good and the bad ones) on a piece of paper at the very beginning of the meeting. You then collect these and write them down on a flip chart (this is your purge list). This is also a great way to demonstrate some of the basic rules of engagement (such as not commenting or critiquing the input of fellow team members). Remember: you’re not throwing this list of names away, some of them may very well end up on your short list.
After this exercise the team will have their minds cleared up (purged) and are almost good to go. All you need to do now get them warmed up a little.
Creative warm-ups aren’t just fun: they help get the team in the right creative mindset. Because it still is a warm-up – it doesn’t count yet – people will feel less inhibited to say something silly or strange and they will feel a lot less inclined to critique or judge whatever others are suggesting.
There are tons of different warming up exercises. My favorite one is the back-ward-naming exercise. Hand each person in the team a piece of paper with a different unknown brand name on it: Veruna Classic, Yuvié, Panza Katame, Clicfast are some of the ones I use. You don’t need to give them any more input: they will have to fill in all the blanks themselves. Ask them to take five minutes and write down what kind of brand they think the name belongs to. Now have each of the participants read their name our loud and share their ideas about the name with the team. Have them explain how (or why) they came to their particular conclusion. This is a great warm-up exercise that gets the team comfortable at talking and thinking about words and names creatively and sharing their thoughts with each other.
These first three steps of the brainstorm (the ground rules, the purge and the warm-up) may take up a lot of time – without the team generating anything useful. However I would advice you not to rush through them: they lay down the foundation for an productive brainstorm.
Expand your Mind: the Association Matrix
Having been warmed-up and having many of their barriers and inhibitions taken the team should be ready for some real creative work. I explained earlier it’s now time to expand the teams collective creativity. If course you could start brainstorming right away, write down whatever comes to mind, associate, variate and generate dozens ideas. For some situations and people this approach works just fine; at the very least it will result in a very long list of names, some of which may even be brilliant.
For others – that’s probably most of us – a different approach will be more effective. Specifically for our Name Hurricane I have developed an Association Matrix:
It’s a table that lists 12 categories along its 12 rows. At the top are labels for five to eight columns. You have to label these with the five to eight most important attributes of the brand: these could be its core values, its unique selling points, a single word that describes your brand promise or any other characteristics that you want to emphasize.
It’s important that you chose a set that’s provides a broad creative scope. You are not trying to narrow things down at this stage, you are expanding your creativity.
Now the team to literally fill in the blanks: fill out each blank rectangle according to its category and attribute. For example if the category is ‘culture, art, history’ and the attribute is ‘foresight’ you could fill in ‘Delphi‘ or ‘Oracle‘ or if the category is ‘country, region, place’ and the attribute is ‘mysterious’ you could fill in ‘Shangri-La’ or ‘Transylvania‘. I’m sure you get the idea by now.
Here’s a few extra tips that will help you get on your way:
- There is no wrong input.
- Keep it short (preferably one word) and preferably use use nouns, name, verbs, adjectives.
- If you have to chose between two words (i.e. library and scriptorium) chose the most inspiring sounding one.
- If you get stuck, skip a rectangle and get back to it later.
- You’re not done until you fill in ALL the blanks.
For your convenience I have uploaded an Empty Association Matrix for you to use in your own brainstorm. If you want to use a lot of attributes (more than four or five) you can split the team in half and assign them half a a set of their own. After about 20 minutes switch the worksheets and have them add to the other team’s work and fill in their blanks.
This exercise will provide you with dozens of creative starting points that should get your creative juices flowing. Obviously you have not generated any names yet. That will be the topic of my next post in the series.