Now I know what you’re thinking: you want to turn my very productive brainstorming sessions into a COMEDY writers room? Thank u, next!
Here’s the reality: in most corporate settings, bosses and employees need to come up with novel ideas to solve problems, create new products, or to create winning strategies but no matter how hard you try, it’s hard to find something groundbreaking. Comedy writers may not be the best businessmen, but they do have a set of practices to help spur creativity and help create the stories and characters we all know and love!
How can you make your brainstorming session more like a TV Writers Room?
Make Some Ground Rules
Establish agreed upon ground rules based on respect. Every team culture is different whether it’s super corporate and polite and people only speak when called on or a loud chaotic team where everyone shouts over each other. Find some ground rules that best suit your team with the goal of making sure that every person in the room gets at least one or two opportunities to share their thoughts.
Say "Yes AND"
The first rule of improv comedy is to say “Yes AND” meaning that you agree with whatever the person before you said and expand upon that idea.
For example: you can’t build a scene with someone if they start the scene by saying “Captain, our ship is under attack!” and you respond with, “No it’s not, we’re at an ice cream shop!” The conversation is over and the audience is very confused.
Whenever someone has an idea in a meeting, whether it’s good or bad, have everyone in the room accept that idea and try to expand upon it. Say if you had a nautical themed event, perhaps having pirates attack with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to help raise awareness for a children’s cancer foundation could be a fun way to create some brand recognition. The idea itself might be a bit out there, but by agreeing and adding to the idea you may come up with some really novel ideas.
Don’t Punish “Bad” Ideas
Somewhat related to the Yes And Rule, don’t punish people for pitching bad ideas. The moment a person in a meeting directly dismisses an idea for being bad encourages everyone else to share less. People hate being told that they are wrong or to embarrass themselves around their peers or superiors. Instead, play with the idea for another moment or two before letting another person pitch a different idea OR, better yet, let that idea spark a “What if” moment.
So if someone pitches an idea that clearly won’t work because it’s off brand, take a moment to say, “I’m not sure if that would really work with our current brand messaging, but what if we took that concept but centered it around [insert novel idea here].”
Your goal is to get your teammates to keep talking and feel comfortable sharing ideas, NOT waiting for the most perfect idea to appear fully formed.
Make Impossible Ideas Possible
Many times in comedy, writers will get incredibly outlandish ideas that are ridiculously out of budget, physically impossible to actually produce, but are obviously off the walls amazing.
For example: it’s pretty hard for a little web series based in New York to have a hyper realistic outer space battle with cowboys on dinosaur rockets, even if it would be amazing.
But you know what is possible? Having two drunk cowboys have a pathetic fight on two dinosaur statues in a playground with a group of children cheering them before the NYPD arrests them for disturbing the peace. Don’t forget the epic musical score a la Star Wars.
The key is finding the core of what’s funny or inspiring and using that to help identify a way to execute on a much smaller scale. Often, you’ll find the new idea is actually better than the original.
As an exercise, encourage your employees to dream big and pitch the most expensive, outlandish, and fantastical possibility that would change everything. Then, have them figure out what within that idea is attainable and would make the biggest impact. You might be surprised at what you find!
Short Meetings are Imperative
No one likes long meetings. They’re exhausting, draining, and usually, not necessary. Try to keep your meetings as short as possible, somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour tops. Giving people a deadline to really get to work and start producing without time to dilly dally. Some of the best ideas are made by time constraints.
Now, at this point you may ask, but don’t writers room meetings last for entire days? And technically, you’re correct. Many writers room meetings can last for hours. But usually, the best ideas appear right before it’s actually time to film the episode. So, although you should always try to think of amazing ideas ahead of time and take a long time to let them stew, sometimes brainstorming sessions work better if you only have a couple minutes to pitch your ideas.
Again, base your decision on your team’s culture: some people really benefit from longer meetings but usually, giving time constraints really incentivizes people to speak up sooner rather than later.