Archives For collaboration

Some people call them brainstorms. Some call them ‘Ideation sessions’. Still others call them “a complete waste of time”. Whatever you call it, the act of getting two or more people together in a room to think on the outside of their heads is almost certainly going to happen to you.

So you might as well set it up for success by following these 5 simple rules I was lucky enough to learn from the SXSW panel “Turning a blank page into a great idea”:

1. Get the numbers right.

You often can’t control how many people are going to be in a session, but if you can, keep it around the dozen mark – then plus or minus one. Odd numbers create a more natural sense of dynamism, which is crucial if you want progress. Dealing with large numbers? Break the room up into ‘cafe groups’. Y’know, a natural number of people you might see around one table in a cafe.


brainstorm, creativity, ides

Brainstorms are often an exercise in random creativity. they shouldn’t be


2. Get your timing right.

Below two hours is rarely enough time to establish group dynamics, wade through all the obvious ‘first idea’ responses and start generating fresh thinking – maybe even with some consensus. Beyond three hours, people get bored and, even worse, distracted by FOMO*.

3. Do your homework.

Group idea sessions don’t (generally) occur for  no reason. There should be research, background material, competitive analysis** and, if you’re really lucky, a brief. Read them all. Understand them. Then, summarise everything you’ve learned (plus some of your own research) to a series of sketches (not slides) and have them on the wall before you start.

4. Start as you mean to continue.

Don’t wander through introductions or meander through the brief, kick the session off with a short, impactful and creative intro. It could be as simple as a clip from YouTube or a quick game or quiz – but make sure it is at least tangentially related to the topic at hand. Put some thought and effort into your opener and you’ll communicate your expectations: thought and effort from your participants.

5. Pass the mic (or the marker).

Ask your participants to describe their idea, or problem or example (or whatever they are trying to express) as a sketch, without words. You’ll force them to think clearly about what they are trying to express, because they’ll want to boil it down to a simple a picture as possible. It’s also a good leveler: seniority and politics get replaced by drawing skill.


These 5 tips were distilled from the SXSW Panel: “Turning a blank page into a great idea”, presented by Edelman Strategist and Ideator JB Hopkins along with New Yorker cartoonist Matt Diffee, who also revealed his 5 simple ways to improve an idea.


* Fear Of Missing Out. It’s why you check your mobile phone Every. Thirty. Goddamn. Seconds.

** I was once handed a folder marked “Competitive Anal”. It might have been an abbreviation, but I didn’t want to risk it, so I left it unopened.


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


Warning: humblebrag approaching

I’m paid to generate ideas and that’s fun, but it’s becoming clearer that execution is the new black. If that’s true, then I’m here to declare longevity is the new chrome. One of the better ideas I’ve had (okay, stolen) in recent times is an internal program we’ve established at Ogilvy Singapore called the Ogilvy Adventure Squad.

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Know the face, but not the name.

The program was created to help tackle the siloification that invariably happens in organisations as they become larger, both in terms of headcount and areas of specialisation. The mechanics of the idea involves throwing a small group of people from different departments together for a short but reasonably hardcore adventure trip, doing or learning something new and physically demanding.

The Adventure Squad kicked off last year with trips to Malaysia to go rockclimbing, out into the South China Sea to go scuba diving and over to Sri Lanka for a what turned out to be an unbelievably good surf trip (4 to 6ft of swell and glassy conditions, in case you were wondering). All the trips offered something for the enthusiasts as well as professional lessons and gear hires for newbies.

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Shared experiences lead to shared goals

The result was a whole bunch of new informal connections and networks springing up all over the business between people who could probably help each other a lot, but so far have found no real reason to say anything beyond “Hi” in the lunchroom. And here’s the truly heartening result: in 2014, the agency is backing it again.

Not coincidentally, the agency is also restructuring to foster more integration between specialisations (I know: everyone says they are doing it but I’m yet to see it happen, at scale, as a result an intentional). While structure and method and org charts are important, I’m a big believer in getting the bloodware right, which is much more an ongoing management process than a run-and-done engineering task.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to pack my Burton jacket and Anon goggles – the next Ogilvy Adventure Squad mission is our snowboard trip to Hakuba, Japan, where the forecast is for snow, snow and quite possibly more snow.







About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+


You Don’t Need To Learn To Code + Other Truths About the Future of Careers

If you’re in the market for some bad ideas, you could do a lot worse than get your colleagues together and announce a brainstorm. The very mention of the word seems to elicit one of two distinct responses: dread from those who have work they want to be doing and secret delight from those who are desperate for any reason to avoid doing whatever it is they were actually supposed to be doing.

Oh, there is a third reaction: mock outrage that someone would use the word ‘brainstorm’, as it is so obviously a term that offends people with epilepsy. These people then offer up a few alternative terms (Thought shower. Ideation. Ideating), all of which make me want to go and do a bit of vomitating. Not just because these are ridiculous, made-up words, but also because it is unnecessary. There’s actually nothing wrong with the word ‘brainstorm’ – and this is coming from epileptic sufferers themselves.

brainstorm, creativity

Brainstorms: plenty of heat and light, but no velocity.


Brainstorming may not be a bad word to say, but it is generally a bad thing to do. Plenty of research has debunked its effectiveness, so why is it looked upon so favourably by those in business? And looked on so suspiciously by those (myself included) who are actually in the professional ‘coming up with ideas’ business?

I’m not morally opposed to collaborative thinking, it’s just that traditional brainstorms tend to cling to one of the the biggest fallacies ever perpetuated in the creativity game:

“there’s no such thing as a bad idea.”

I’m here to call bullshit on that one. There are actually plenty of things that are a bad idea: Zumba. Underwater weddings. Electing this guy. Just for starters. Speaking of politics (they don’t call me ‘Tenuous Link man’ for nothing), the main reasons bad ideas proliferate in brainstorm are politics & politeness. There’s no reliable mechanism for separating the ideas from the personalities and so you end up protecting the ideas that are associated with the most politically powerful people in the room (your boss, the client, the expensive consultant), or you spend all your time equally protecting all the equal ideas from all the equal people.

brainstorm, ideas, creativity

The point of the exercise is to find that one bright point of light.


There are no judgements here.

And that’s the goddamn problem. Brainstorms place too much emphasis on generating ideas (and they are not even very good at that) and not enough on interrogating them, sorting the wheat from the chaff. There’s a reason it’s hard to get into advertising – you kind of have to know a little bit about what you are doing, you have to have a clue. And so it should be hard to get into a brainstorm (if you are still going to have one).  It should be populated by people who have smarts and skills and experience and a point of view. Most importantly, they should not be hesitant to express that point of view. Which is why the genuinely brilliant people I’ve worked with generally ‘choke’ in these artificial environments of ‘enforced idea equality’: asking them not to interpret and pass judgement on ideas is like asking them not to breathe.

There’s also no discipline here.

If you are still going ahead with this darned fool idea, then at least do your homework and then get everyone to do theirs. Assemble a team of thinkers and doers, with distinct specialities, plus a few generalists. Ensure the core team are familiar with each other and add in a few fresh faces, preferably with no stake in the outcome. Give them enough notice and brief them properly. Parcel out the research tasks (competitive landscape, audience insights, social listening report) and ask for succinct, 10 minute summaries to get everyone up to speed. Give people some time to think, and work, alone, then come back as a group to discuss and discard. Remember the aim is not to generate many so-so ideas, but to rally around a few great ones.

b2b, creativity, brainstorm, ideas

Without discipline and direction, brainstorms are a first class ticket to nowhere.


Call in the Bomb Squad.

I’ve spent too many hours in too many bad brainstorms to want to keep doing this. I also believe, however, that once you cease to put in the effort to find a better alternative, you forfeit your right to complain. And I love complaining. So we’ve developed a template for tackling problems as a group and quickly arriving at new thinking that has been critically reviewed and supported.

brainstormWe call it the Bomb Squad,  because it puts the problem or opportunity in the middle of the room and surrounds it with smart people who work quickly to blow it up into a big idea. We also call it that, because it sounds like it will be politically incorrect, to someone, somewhere.

Sound a bit like regular brainstorming? Yes – if regular brainstorming involved preparation, structure and discipline. The preparation is in the pre‐work, ensuring that the room takes no longer than 30 minutes to get up to speed, and no one can derail the process with those tragic words: “we’ll have to go and find that out”. The structure is in the way the team is assembled: a carefully‐calibrated mix of youthful enthusiasm and learned wisdom, of technical insight and wide‐eyed wonder, of careful reconnaissance and daring risk taking. And the discipline comes from the squad leaders, who are charged with keeping to the schedule and building the follow‐through plan (another big failing of traditional ‘brainstorms’).

If you’d like to know more about how The Bomb Squad works (yes, we even have an instruction manual), get in touch and we’ll talk.

And if you’ve got more examples of bad ideas, tell me on twitter.


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


7 reasons why a surf trip is the fastest route to collaboration

Why is it so hard to ‘do’ integration and collaboration in big agencies? Because, in a big agency, we mainly work with strangers. The size, the layout, the turnover and the turf-wars all conspire against becoming familiar with people you share office-space but not projects.

Ogilvy (where I work) is no different from most other big agencies – our success has bred scale which is now, in some ways, working against us. This is compounded by our ‘screen addiction’ and the belief that everything you need to know is “in the computer”. Something had to be done.


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Who wants to go on a surf trip to Sri Lanka?


The idea was, ahem, borrowed from Paul Dunne, a Creative Director formerly of the Sydney office, who organised an informal agency ski trip a few years ago. This one-off trip that started out as a bunch of mates car-pooling for a weekend at Perisher snowballed (see what I did there?) into a hugely-anticipated annual festival: a busload of agency people booking out an entire chalet, having a ball and making a lot of new friends in the process.

Management got behind it, giving everyone Friday off for travel and buying everyone a steak dinner on Saturday night. I loved those trips, so when I moved to Singapore last year, I decided to scale it up and re-mix it for the tropics: Welcome to the Ogilvy Adventure Squad!Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 12.16.46 AM

There was an entirely selfish reason* I started the Squad, but the official reason, the one I pitched to management during a ‘David’s Den’ internal incubator session was:

1. it’s a great way to bust silos.

I argued that if we could get a bunch of strangers from around the agency and take them away together doing something exciting and slightly dangerous, most of them would come back friends. And an agency where everyone had a friend in every department would be more naturally collaborative, creative and productive. Best of all, I concluded –

2. it doesn’t have to cost the agency a dime.

Ok, I lied about the cost part. Although the individuals pay their own way for each trip, we did spend a little money, buying props for the teaser campaign: a few pieces of obscure sports equipment scattered around the halls, and tiny little signs that suggested if you knew what these objects were for, we needed to talk. We chose the stealth route, because –

3. it attracts curious, passionate individuals

– who, in our case, revealed themselves to us as mad-keen surfers, divers and rock-climbers. We asked them if they were willing to research, design and lead a random collection of their colleagues on the three-day trip of their dreams (it could just as easily  have been of their nightmares), according some fairly simple criteria:

      • Somewhere out of the country
      • But not too far
      • Suitable for beginners, with instruction and equipment provided
      • Insure-able
Dive, buddies.

Dive, buddies.

Once word got out, plenty of people came back to us with trip suggestions, but ultimately only a couple stuck with it long enough to actually manage all the travel logistics and ‘cat-herding’ required to get a trip organised and filled with confirmed participants. We discovered it can be risky to let each leader organise things independently, but it pays off as –

4. it unearths the hidden leaders

– from parts of the agency or roles where you wouldn’t expect (or maybe we’d just never given them the opportunity to lead). The Adventure Squad began to behave like a de facto client, requiring meetings, publicity, project management, stakeholder communications and so on. It had everything except a budget, which can be a pain in the arse, but on the plus side –

5. it shows you who the real resources are

– within your agency, people who know how to get things done and, with the right motivation, actually do it. Management often knows who these people are, but it’s very powerful to watch these people discover, help and respect each other. It generates a series of informal networks and a living ‘favour bank’ with more natural liquidity than the far more common practice of senior people roping more junior talent (and usually the same, small dedicated crew), into unpaid & unbilled work.

Solid, like a rock.

Solid, like a rock.

The reason we set the ‘remote location’ criteria and favoured the more extreme activities to launch the Squad is the belief that once you’ve shared a 5-hour bus ride down the coast of Sri Lanka, a cramped boat cabin for 3 days or wedgies and rope-burn with your colleagues –

6. it stops people acting like dicks

– especially at that crucial moment when you see each other in the staff kitchen on Monday morning and have to make that split-second decision about whether you’ll engage in conversation or just make your tea and head back to your desk. Those are the little moments, multiplied across hundreds of staff and dozens of Monday mornings, that determine what sort of ‘Agency Culture’ you have and whether collaboration becomes a habit or a perpetual to-do item.

Everyone gets a seat at the table.

Everyone gets a seat at the table.

You were looking for seven things, right? Because the name of this story is “7 ways… “. Wow, we’ve all become such suckers for lists on the internet, haven’t we? Okay, because –

7. it makes them feel, just maybe, they’re in an industry that might still be considered cool.

Or at least in an Agency that knows how to have fun. In a high-turnover environment like Asia, attracting and retaining talent can be a full-time job. So being (and being known as) the Agency that lets you go surfing in Sri Lanka, diving in the South China Sea or rock climbing in Malaysia for the weekend with 10 brand new friends, does have it’s advantages. Here’s the video that the crew put together to showcase the adventures.


Get the teams to document and merchandise their adventures back to the wider agency - video works well.

Get the teams to document and merchandise their adventures back to the wider agency – video works well.


Ogilvy Adventure Squad is back for 2013, bigger and better. We just launched the end-of season calendar to a packed crowd in the agency arena (yes we’re that big now) and confirmed 8 new adventures:

          • Dirt-biking in Johor Barhu
          • Paddling around Sentosa Island
          • Yoga on the Gili Islands
          • Hiking up Mt Bromo, Java
          • Diving in Cebu
          • Whitewater rafting in Chiang Mai
          • Surfing agin, but this time in Lombok, and the trip that has everyone on this equatorial island very, very excited:
          • Snowboarding in Japan. OMG, right?

What’s particularly satisfying is to see that 1 leader is returning, 2 people who were on last year’s trips have volunteered as leaders and 5 new leaders are stepping up – including one who is doing so expressly to meet new people. Almost all of them are mid to junior level and many are new to the agency. It’s the sort of shot in the arm a big agency needs to continually give itself if it wants to keep producing results like a hot shop.



About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+




* The selfish reason I started the Squad?  My entirely reasonable wife allows me to go on surfing trips pretty much any time i want, provided I go with a surf buddy. The Squad was really just an elaborate way to find some of those, but don’t tell management.