Metallica on Brainstorming

The process of making a movie can be overwhelming. Just ask the band members of Metallica. For years they were interested in making a movie that would be released on the big screen. After many scrapped attempts, in 2013, Through the Never was finally completed. To create something that they could be proud of, exhaustive brainstorming transpired.

Let’s examine a simple three-step process to effectively brainstorm and consider how Metallica utilized this method to create their movie.

1) Lay out the problem you want to solve

This may seem obvious but all too often, the problem is too broad or unattainable for a manageable solution. Instead of brainstorming immediate needs, think about what you are trying to achieve. As a leading professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business stated, being able to identify the objectives before the session will focus the team’s discussion and make the solution much more likely to succeed.

Metallica’s “problem” was that they want to make a movie. This may not seem difficult for a successful rock band with three decades of hits, but it was a lofty goal and they had the self-awareness to know that they were not filmmakers. To complicate the venture, but hone in on their intentions, Metallica decided that their movie had to be different. This was not going to be an entire film of concert footage. Like films of the Beatles and the Monkeys, Metallica wanted to tell a story.

2) Present as many ideas as possible

The goal in brainstorming is to get as many ideas as possible on paper. Every member of the team is encouraged to present as many ideas as possible. The only rule is that ideas cannot be criticized, altered, or judged. You are creating a wish list; this is not the time to debate practicality or significance.

Once the members of Metallica knew what type of movie they wanted to make, it was time for the brainstorming. They threw everything on the board – 3-D, IMAX, cartoons, action scenes, explosions, etc. No idea was too big, too dumb, or too expensive.

It’s like building your dream house. The architect is saying, ‘sure we can do that. We add a bowling alley. Of course.’ Then reality brings you back down. But you have to go big so you can concentrate again. So all the best ideas that happen start to boil down into a concentrated, real dense good idea. — James Hetfield, lead singer

3) Evaluate the results

At the end of the brainstorming session, you should have an extensive list of ideas. Now is the time to weed out the gems, discard the clunkers, and pocket the ideas that could be useful in the future. Because this initial list will be a disorganized mess, it’s helpful to put ideas into categories, rank their value, and highlight the winners.

In looking at Metallica’s wish list, it did not take an accountant to recognize that it was beyond their budget. The more important aspects were elevated to be a priority and some ideas were laughed out of the room (respectfully, of course). Metallica also utilized the expertise of directors and writers who pitched movie treatments based on their litany of ideas.

In the end, Through the Never included all of the features that Metallica felt were a priority. It had stunning visuals, a compelling story, represented the band in the way they envisioned, and garnered critical success. There’s no reason why you’re project can’t have the same success.