The 20-minute idea session is perfect for Gen Y

IMG_4133I grew up in the old days of ad agencies, when roles were clearly defined. The copywriters and art directors were in charge of the creative work, and we looked askance at any account executive who ventured to make a creative comment. The account people stuck to marketing strategy, and the media department figured out smart things to do with the media budget, but the domain of the imagination was thought to be the exclusive territory of the creative department.

At Tribe, I’ve learned to appreciate the power of pulling everyone together for an idea session. We generally hold what we call our jam sessions at the big wooden table in the studio, pulling up as many chairs as are needed. Everyone is welcome, from the art directors and copywriters to account people to the receptionist, but we don’t wait until every single person is available. We just gather anybody who happens to be around and start jamming on the project in question.

Today it was a social media plan for a promotional contest that involves airport parking and NASCAR. Other times it might be a YouTube video concept for an upscale baby stroller, or a mobile text contest for equestrian teens or just a birthday card for someone in the office.

The sessions are quick and to the point. We define the goal and then start tossing around ideas. We try not to be idea crushers. If we’re not crazy about someone’s idea, we try to offer another approach, but without slamming the initial idea. The big idea of the day might come from any of us, from the intern to the agency president, and then it’s fleshed out with the benefit of the various expertise sitting around that table.

Within about 15 or 20 minutes, we can usually  have a plan mapped out in Sharpie marker on a giant sheet of paper. We break it down into some actionable steps and then we each pick up the various pieces of the plan that fall within our areas of responsibility. The session breaks up as quickly as it started.

Looking back, the old agency model with unflinching boundaries between roles strikes me as a particularly Boomer-like division of labor. The idea sessions we hold at Tribe are much more appropriate to a Gen Y work force. This new generation of employees tends to define leadership not as a place in the hierarchy but as the ability to harness the thinking of many, to inspire others and to create a strong team. They value collaboration. And they exhibit shorter attention spans than their older peers, so these quick sessions are more palatable to them than longer meetings.

Millennials also have no problem believing that their ideas will be as good or better than those of people who’ve been in the business for decades. That allows them to engage in these idea sessions with confidence, offering up anything that occurs to them. Sometimes that happens to be the best idea at the table. Regardless, people show more responsibility for seeing the project through to the end when they feel that they were present at its birth.


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