Is saying 'no' during a creative session taboo?

First of all, happy new year to you all,

I ended last year wondering about this question, so I'm starting the new year with posting it here.

Basically, a lot of people say that you shouldn't any kill ideas during a brainstorm session, that all ideas have potential and that by saying 'no', you make the session very difficult, but somehow, I find it hard to believe that. Are you allowed to say 'no' and label something as a bad idea in a premature stage?

I understand it might make the brainstorm session very rough and difficult, but I doubt it's productive to continue in the wrong direction. I reckon it's all about the balance but some people keep insisting saying 'no' is a no-go.

Anyhow, I'm very interested about your takes on this.



Mr. Fixit's picture
Mr. Fixit
251 pencils

I tend to follow the philosophy that, at least in the first round, an idea shouldn't be automatically shot down. The original idea may be garbage, but there might be a single aspect within it where gold can be found. One of advertising's creative Gurus, Sally Hogshead, when she was just a jr. CW, was given the BMW motorcycle campaign because no one wanted it. She spent the entire night brainstorming and came up with 800 headlines in one night. She admits that several of the headlines are horrible, but she also says that some of these horrible headlines are what later helped synthesize the award-winning ones that she created later in the night. 9 out of 10 times when a person tosses a bad idea out on the table, they know it's a bad one. They are just trying to clean the mental garbage out of their mind so that clean, fresh ideas can begin coming out; but they are also hoping that someone else may find that gold that I mentioned earlier. Once again this is just my philosophy. I hope this helps.

Jaap Grolleman's picture
Jaap Grolleman
6996 pencils

Thanks :) yes, very interesting. Sally Hogshead is a good example indeed, looking at her collection of headlines (here:, I do feel most of them are in the right direction in terms of USP/message and this is not always the case in brain storm sessions, not sure if you should correct that when it happens but you bring a good point.

ivan's picture

I think it's a good idea to follow the practice of never saying no. In fact one should explore those avenues that initially makes you cringe. It's a sign of something interesting and perhaps useful.

shahidali's picture
4069 pencils

Good point you mentioned that sometimes it goes towards the unproductive direction and also goes beyond control to a point of no return. Still, as Fixit has pointed out very nicely, its also the role of the key person to hunt or dig the gold from the rubble.


Tom Megginson's picture
Tom Megginson
550 pencils

I think that, among equally-experienced creatives, we can all self-edit effectively. We are also not embarrassed to put out and consider admitedly "bad ideas" that might have potential to spark something new. In these cases, if a creative brings it up, it's respectful to consider and discuss it as a group.

However, the idea that "there's no such thing as a bad idea" simply isn't true. The difference is that people who are not pro creatives think every idea has merit — they don't have the sheer volume of ideas and quick judgement to avoid wasting time on duds.

For that reason I find mixed sessions — between professional creatives and non-creatives — to be much more awkward and frustrating. In these sessions, all ideas are not alike, and the participants tend to think that creative direction is a matter of consensus.

In my opinion, the best thing to do is use these sessions with clients or multidisciplinary colleagues more as idea-generating exercises where you write down everything and move from one idea to another as quickly as possible. Then you can leave the culling and development to a separate creatives-only session where there are (hopefully) no hurt feelings or politics to drag you down.

youngilvy's picture
144 pencils

It looks very good Idea. I will try that session someday. Thank you~

JimD's picture
23 pencils

There's an old saying: "Resolution never comes without conflict." As already stated, sometimes a great idea is born from a truly horrible one. The only idea everyone agrees on is usually the most boring and unsuccessful one - because it's the one that presents the least (if any) conflict.

In my opinion, the worst thing about brainstorming sessions is that it usually takes place after a "creative" has already decided in their own head what they want to do. Brainstorming shouldn't be a meeting between an AD and a CW, it should have a media buyer, an account service person, creatives not on the team assigned to the particular account in question, perhaps even the receptionist. Great ideas come from everywhere - yet we always seem to limit who can participate in brainstorming sessions.

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MindDrift's picture
1150 pencils

The art director's and copywriter's main role is to come up with ideas.
Letting an account executive take part in the brainstorming process is like letting a creative do the financial planning. It does not work. It also negates the role of a creative person.
By you logic, everyone including the client himself can come up an idea. Why should he then seek the help of an agency?

The creatives shouldn't let others do their job. Good ideas are born in small groups not big meaningless brainstorming sessions.

youngilvy's picture
144 pencils

Finally, It looks "A few idea means no big idea". ( it's my creative philosophy too when I drive my creative team. except very very urgent situation ; )
and "saying 'No' means 'No more Idea' " too.

danielchapman's picture
292 pencils

It's about potential, and growth.

Brainstorming sessions, are simply sessions to explore, and germinate new ideas. Every comment, be it good or bad, has the potential to germinate into a more meaningful thought.

You have to be weary of pushing a bad idea too far, but in the initial brainstorming sessions, there's no real value to shooting down ideas, as they be weeded out as you progress to the next stage of refining and pushing further,

My partner could say the most benign comment, a throw away thought, where the term 'city park bench' was used. In this creative environment, my mind can use the word 'park' and spin off to parallel parking a cruise ship.

There's value in not judging ideas until a later stage of the game, because you spend more time creating ideas, than you do focusing on the merits of the ideas of your peers. That stage will come.

Jaap Grolleman's picture
Jaap Grolleman
6996 pencils

I think it's all about preference then, and what works best for you. I find that shooting ideas for a long time makes the ideas pretty flat with no deepening into a certain direction. But again I understand your point :) I'll try some different approaches, see what works best.

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