On Above Average’s sports site The Kicker, you’ll find headlines like “Browns Sign Stray Cat Who Ran On Field During Thursday Night Football” and “Stranger Things Season 2 Has Kids Mysteriously Playing for the Knicks.”
Above Average, the digital media studio born out of Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video, brings the funny, sometimes strange, and ultra-relevant humor Saturday Night Live is known for to companies like Chex Mix and Marriott.
At The Fast Company Innovation Festival last week, The Kicker editor-in-chief (and SNL‘s co-head writer) Bryan Tucker and his team took attendees through a typical writers’ room, using actual prompts brought to Above Average by two major brands.
Here’s what we learned about how to make group brainstorming productive, straight from the room where it happens.
Do The Prep Work
In the Above Average writers room, Tucker starts by going around and encouraging his staff to share the ideas they’ve already been told to prepare. By grounding the session in prework, they’re not all forced to come up with ideas on the spot. Because they’ve been mulling over the prompt for a few days, they’re more apt to participate in the discussion of other people’s ideas.
Even if the prepared ideas don’t make the cut, they often spawn other productive discussions., he says. In short, make it easier on the people you work with by letting everyone have some time to think.
Let The Ideas Flow
As workshop participants presented their ideas in the writers’ room, Tucker took up a position akin to a panel moderator. He listened, was open to, and encouraged details, and ultimately created an atmosphere of free-flowing ideas. He also connected the dots between different concepts, tying together two seemingly disparate thoughts into one even better idea.
At one point during the session, an attendee meandered some before getting to the meat of her pitch. But Tucker was patient, and the ending idea was worth the wait, setting up a flood of related ideas from other people. The lesson was clear: Let people get out their thoughts, even if it takes a few extra moments. Going along with an idea means taking it seriously every step of the way.
One prompt from a media brand urged Above Average to think about ideas for a sports show theme built around kids. Most ideas focused on kids’ sports like kickball and four square. But then one Above Average staffer made it weird.
He suggested an idea for a show that focuses on a star teeball player who is the son of a literal tee — the thing the ball is balanced on. Though the idea was a little out there, it instantly livened up the room.
People laughed, but they were also inspired to think outside the normal realm of what is possible for a sketch—and they also got more comfortable coming up with ideas that might not actually work in practice. The fear of harsh criticism had vanished.