The 5 Brainstorming Archetypes and how to use them to your advantage

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Have you ever led a brainstorm, a design thinking session or just lived your life in general? Then you certainly have has come across one of these 5 archetypes or combinations of them: Shadows, Wizards, Bosses, Deputies and Critics.

In this article you learn to recognise the Archetypes and how to deal with them so your ideation session will be the best OF ALL TIME. Scroll on.

1. The Shadow 🌚

Some people tend to stick to the background. Is it insecurity? Did they lose their voice? Do they have top secret information? We don’t know, because we don’t hear them.

When asked a question they tend to refer to other participants a lot: “Yes, I agree with her.” Why thank you for your contribution. It won’t take long for the rest of the group to ignore the Shadow. And most of the time the facilitator ignores them too.

That is a shame because sometimes the quiet ones have an idea that archetypes like ‘the boss’ and ‘the wizard’ have never ever thought of. That might be because Shadows have time to analyse the situation instead of showing off all their creative ideas. I’d like to nickname these Shadows ‘Ninja’s’.

How to handle the Shadow

  1. Give them compliments to get them out of their shell.
  2. Use silent/anonymous brainstorm techniques like brainwriting, in which they write down ideas before talking about them
  3. Make smaller groups, so they feel less shy.
  4. Try to give them a more substantial role when selecting ideas, that is often more to their liking

Pros

  • Takes notes, observes and analyses from a distance.
  • Recognizes patterns in ideas.

Cons

  • Will not ask for help if the task is unclear.
  • Afraid to write down their wild ideas.
  • Can cost a enthusiastic group energy.

2. The Wizard 🧙

Wizards tend to come up with far-out ideas out of thin air. Like magic. But not really. Wizards are just not afraid to be creative and their brains are trained to come up with ideas on the spot.

Wizards tend to be very visible. They are thrilled to be in a creative setting and they move around like lightning. Most of the times they are friendly, but they can be protective of their own ‘spells’ because they believe it to be ‘the most creative idea ever™’

How to handle the Wizard

  1. Most brainstorms need a Wizard or two in every group. So if you have them in your session.. be happy!
  2. Be careful they do not lose the rest of the group with the far-out ideas. Not everybody can keep up. Make sure “Bosses” and “Deputies” are able to translate the ideas so everyone can join in.
  3. Wizards might forget they are brainstorming to get results because they are too occupied with coming up with something creative. Remind them of the challenge we are trying to solve.

Pros

  • Their ideas are more creative than those of other archetypes
  • Their energy is contagious

Cons

  • Comes up with many irrelevant ideas
  • Clutters other ideas from really shining.
  • Can be creatively demoralising and for Shadows and Critics
  • Can be a distracting factor for Shadows and Bosses

3. The Boss 👔

Who’s the Boss? Well, that depends. In a professional brainstorm you’ll hopefully have a facilitator who leads the session. But sometimes you have a manager or a CEO (or someone who wants to be one) in your group.

Just like Wizards, Bosses are easily spotted in a group. And just like Wizards, Bosses are protective of their own ideas. But not because of their creativity, but because they think they know what’s best for their team. And while that might be true in some cases, in a brainstorm you want people to feel room for creativity. That is difficult when you have someone who consciously or unconsciously steers the group (especially Shadows) in a direction.

That said, Bosses can be very helpful in the second stage of a brainstorm: convergence, selection and action. When decisions need to be made, they will be there. And when someone needs to pitch, the Boss won’t be afraid to step forward. On the contrary.

How to handle the Boss

  1. Sometimes I consult with the Boss well before the brainstorm takes place. And explain to them that their leadership and presence might steer the group too much. Most of the times they take it as a compliment!
  2. Give them a particular task during the session. Something that only they can do. That way they won’t interfere with the rest of the group.
  3. Don’t ask the Boss all the questions, don’t just look at the Boss when asking the group a question. Keep treating the group as a group.
  4. Stay in control. You’re the facilitator, you’re in the lead. Stand firm but stay friendly.

Pros

  • Very result-oriented
  • Excels at group activities that involve selection of ideas.
  • Are great at giving pitches and presentations.

Cons

  • Steer participants into thinking their idea is the best and only option.
  • If you have two or more Bosses in a group, they start to discuss. And this is a brainstorm, not a discussion!

4. The Deputy 🤠

Don’t shoot the Deputy! Deputies are your friend, well at least they want to be. They do everything to help you make the session a success. This can be very welcome (someone to help clean up afterwards!) but can be very annoying too.

The Deputy always tries to impress you and in many situations they do. It’s good to have back-up, right? But the danger arises that the Deputy will alienate from the rest of the group, which will only make the Deputy come to you more.

How to handle the Deputy

  1. Make sure the Deputy keeps in touch with his fellow team members. Keep sending the Deputy back to the team. “They need you!”
  2. Give the Deputy their own special task so they will feel complimented, or even better: give them a group task.
  3. Tell them that you want to chat when the session is done, or exchange contact information afterwards. They’ll get the feeling that they are interesting to you – and there is a big chance they are!

Pros

  • Suggests interesting new insights & techniques about the session.
  • Excited to try out new brainstorming methods.
  • Is very diligent and helps out with setting up, cleaning up or passing out brainstorming utensils.

Cons

  • Can get under the facilitators skin and cause unnecessary delay.
  • If the Deputy spends more time on the facilitator instead of the team, the team will have less synergy.

5. The Critic 🤨

These are the participants facilitators fear most. The Critic does not believe in this brainstorm, in this team, in this method, in you, in this company, in the world. And the Critic is not too shy to let people know. The arch-enemy of the creative session!

You might wonder “What is the Critic even doing in this session?” and that is precisely what the Critic thinks as well. But critical people exist for a reason, right? Right! Turn you challenge into an opportunity and use the skills of the Critic for good.

Just like the Boss, the skillset of the Critic comes into its own in the second stage of the session, especially convergence and selection.

How to handle the Critic

  1. Before the session starts, tell a little about your track record. Maybe throw some scientific facts in there.
  2. Start the session by explaining that criticism is valuable, but make them ‘save’ it for the second stage of the session.
  3. Speak to the Critic in private and ask them about their attitude, how you can convince them and if they could reserve judgement for a while.
  4. Acknowledge their expertise publicly while still distancing you from their criticism.
  5. While preparing your session, think of who will be invited. Make sure you do not invite too many Critics. Or any Critic at all!

Pros

  • Is not afraid to be honest
  • Might come up with alternative methods
  • Is great in converging and selection

Cons

  • Kills the energy in a team

Are there more Archetypes?

What I do know is that there are many combinations of all the archetypes I’ve written about above. Some of them are common, like the Wizard and Deputy combination. We could call it Apprentice! Or how about the Boss and Critic combination Dictator?

But maybe there is a hidden gem I have never thought about? But you did? Please let me know!

Do you want to learn more about ideation? Do you want to complement this article? Do you want to yell at me for some reason? Find me at Brain Fuel or e-mail me at [email protected]. Always happy to help and happy to get help!