The Heath brothers have a column in Fast Company this month about selecting the ideal brand name. They take an inside look at the process employed by Lexicon, a boutique firm that has helped create 15 brand names that have generated more than $1 billion in revenue.
What I find most fascinating about the Lexicon process is the fact that they often have multiple small teams working in parallel on a project, rather than getting a large team together in a room to brainstorm. Here's an excerpt from the Fast Company article:
Notice what's missing from the Lexicon process: the part when everyone sits around a conference table, staring at the toothbrush and brainstorming names together. ("Hey, how about ToofBrutch -- the URL is available!") Instead, Lexicon's leaders often create three teams of two, with each group pursuing a different angle. Some of the teams, blind to the client and the product, chase analogies from related domains. For instance, in naming Levi's new Curve ID jeans, which offer different fits for different body types, the excursion team dug into references on surveying and engineering.
Here are a couple of lessons that I draw from this example. First, too many firms form very large, unwieldy teams when trying to perform creative work. Yes, adding members adds to the cognitive diversity, but the size of the group eventually gets too large for the dialogue to be productive. Second, the parallel work of multiple subgroups may seem inefficient, but in fact, it offers a wonderful mechanism for stimulating divergent thinking. Finally, the use of analogies from different domains opens up people's minds to new, creative possibilities. While reasoning by analogy can be dangerous at times, in this case, the analogies are useful because they aren't being used simply to imitate what has occurred in some other domain. Instead, the analogies provide fuel for creative thinking, for the invention of a new idea based on examining what has happened in another domain.