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Posts by: Lauren MacInnes

We got to talking about brainstorming this week (a brainstorm on brainstorming?). Especially for those in the agency world, it’s an activity you’ve probably taken part in more than you can count.

A recent article in the New Yorker, Groupthink: The Brainstorming Myth, basically concluded that brainstorming doesn’t work. As with most New Yorker articles, it’s extremely well researched and therefore pretty compelling, but among the group at Myjive, we all seemed to think there was value in brainstorming – it’s just a matter of having the right parameters in place.

Brainstorming became big in the 1950s when Alex Osborn, one of the founders of BBDO, popularized it in his bestselling book, “Your Creative Power.” His original definition is great: “using the brain to storm a creative problem – and doing so in a commando fashion, with each storming attacking the same objective.” The key ideas were no criticism and quantity over quality. In theory, this would generate many ideas quickly, as well as build positive sentiment within a team.

The New Yorker article highlighted a number of studies showing that working alone or working in a group where criticism and debate are encouraged were actually more effective.

We all seemed to agree that some debate and discussion strengthens a brainstorm, so perhaps right there the traditional definition starts to unravel. Still, the notion of bringing together a group with varied perspectives and a range of strengths seems invaluable. So how do you ensure a good brainstorm? Here’s a handful of other factors we came up with:

  • Around 3-5 people. With 2 people, one view invariably dominates. With 6+, the group seems to naturally divide into two sub-groups.
  • Choose a group with different areas of expertise. Introducing unfamiliar ideas will spur creativity.
  • If you have a couple people who have worked together for years, throw in one or two who are newer to shake things up.
  • Try introducing people throughout the session. Start with 3 people, then add the 4th and 5th partway in to inject some fresh perspective without being influenced by what already took place.
  • Clearly define the challenge. Provide the group with a specific problem or need to address. The better you know your problem, the higher quality the answers will be.
  • Provide research in advance. It’s likely your team of brainstormers won’t all be intimately knowledgable with the problem already. Give them a brief and research beforehand to get them acquainted and improve the accuracy of their ideas.
  • Try spreading out the areas of focus over the session. If it’s a complicated challenge, there may be multiple specific subtopics and this will allow you to address each one evenly and in depth.
  • Lastly, your physical space is important. Anyone who’s been to Myjive before knows we love a giant whiteboard. Check out this gallery of other digital agency spaces which spur creativity. I’m particularly envious of the garden!

So what do you think? Is brainstorming an essential part of the creative process or hours of your life wasted? What’s your best tip for a good brainstorm?

In our industry, the question is often overheard “why are there so few women in tech”? A search on Google for “women tech startups” or other similar terms gives a quick overview of such questions.

In my 5 years of working for technology companies and digital agencies, I’d given this about as much thought as “yeah, I guess so.” A lack of further thought is largely due to 5 years of frenzied deadlines and site launches, but also because I’ve always worked with a lot of really talented women.

Is the situation really so dire? Back to Google to hunt for some statistics. Yep, this is looking pretty dire. A summary of findings is that there’s without a doubt a rapidly decreasing number of women studying computer science, only 10% leading Fortune 500 tech companies and a disproportionately low number holding positions in IT.

The majority of the data to be found revolved around similar facts. No doubt, these are some of the easier to measure, based on widely tracked statistics by universities and public corporations. But I think the way the question is being asked and assessed is actually in large part the issue.

Harder to document would be the most creative and significant startups, founders and proponents of critical digital practices, societal influencers, and those who inspire others to innovate. Arguably more important factors.

Framing the question with this in mind, there are tons of women in tech. And rather than a laundry list, I’ll tell you a little more about a few of my favorites. Note that none of these women were computer science majors, worked in IT or head large corporations. Not to discredit any of those traits, but can you argue that they are not incredibly influential and inspiring?

Caterina Fake
Co-Founder of Flickr, Hunch and Chairman of the Board of Etsy
Caterina Fake

Fake was an English major and fine artist, but in the mid-90s, taught herself how to design and program while living in her sister’s basement. Flickr cam be credited as one of the early sites to mass-popularize social networking, open APIs, tagging and algorithms that surface the most relevant content. Keep in mind this was 2004. By 2005, Yahoo purchased Flickr for a sweet $30 million, which came with 1.5 million users and 60 million photos, half of which were tagged by users. Hunch is less well known, but a very successful endeavor nonetheless. It is a recommendations system that uses collective intelligence to help users make decisions on anything from a camera to a car to a restaurant. Check out a couple clever findings on their blog:
Android vs. iPhone
You Vote What You Eat

Jenn Hyman and Jenny Fleiss
Co-Founders of Rent the Runway
Jenn Hyman & Jenny Fleiss
Hyman and Fleiss met at Harvard Business School and launched Rent the Runway in November 2008, even before graduating. Their backgrounds were in marketing and finance. The site is essentially a Netflix for fashion, allowing users to rent designer dresses and jewelry instead of buying them, and for a fraction of the price. Is that $400 lavender bridesmaid’s gown coming to mind? The site has been rolling out highly social features which allow you to “shop with a friend,” as well as intelligent recommendations fueled by a combination of algorithms and real-life stylists. The company was profitable in under 2 years and have snagged a total of $31 million in financing.

Red Burns
Founder of ITP (NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program)
Red Burns
Since 1979, ITP has continually been one of the most significant generators of innovative leaders in technology. It’s alums fill top creative and technical roles IDEO, R/GA, frog design, Microsoft and many many others. Long before most people considered interactivity a course of study, Burns was well underway in creating an environment that fostered technical innovation and applied it to peoples’ daily lives. Dennis Crowley, the co-founder of Foursquare sums it up — “It’s half art school and half product development summer camp. You take 200 people and stick them in that tiny space for two years, and good things are going to come out of it.” Check out this awe-inspiring list of the many awards and honors bestowed on Burns: http://www.tisch.nyu.edu/object/BurnsR.html

Not so bad, right? But of course it can be better.
Now email your favorite female student and tell her to drop the magazine internship and dive into tech. You can even send here these links:
Developer Intern
Design Intern

Sources & further reading:
NCWIT
Fast Company
New York Times
Illuminate Ventures whitepaper “High Performance Entrepreneurs”