Every great team has a sparkplug, a unique energy source, an active ingredient; someone who helps to give the team a personality. For Barefoot Brainstorming, that someone is Marilyn Barefoot. Classically trained in tier one companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, General Mills, Nike and Microsoft, Marilyn combines a wickedly smart and analytical brain with a creative spirit that knows no bounds.
A summa cum laude graduate from major advertising agencies like Vickers & Benson, Bozell Palmer Bonner, Cossette Communications and BBDO, Marilyn is obsessive about originality. And as a 3-time nominee for the Rotman Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, she’s business savvy too.
A hands-on leader, Marilyn’s high-energy brainstorming sessions (trademarked as BigStorming®) lead to powerful results.
Marilyn is the one who inspires teams to look at every project as an opportunity to be original!
Her ultimate goal is to unlock the boundless creativity that exists within all organizations and individuals.
Bozell Palmer Bonner was my first agency. This was before Macs. It was advertising’s magic marker era. Some of you may remember it. The squeaking. The smell that reached the elevators. The stains that stayed forever.
I wanted to hold those markers so badly my fingertips tingled. I wanted to storyboard. But I was in accounts.
Not my dream – at least not yet!
I had the chance to major in fine art at U of T. I also had parents born during the Depression. Parents who used margarine because butter was for spendthrifts. Paint brushes? Canvases? Forget it.
My happiest childhood memories were my Uncle Jack’s yearly trips from Detroit because he brought me a giant box of crayons. Every colour: glitter, neon, and pastel—every color in the whole world in one box with a sharpener. I portioned the crayons so they would last until the following summer. I sharpened them down to nubs.
But when I graduated from high school my mother said, “We can’t support a starving artist.” So I walked away from fine art at university.
Not my dream. Not yet.
And then came my advertising career. The advantage of sitting where I sat in the agency (besides the intoxicating smell of the marker fumes) was that I got to experience hundreds of brainstorming sessions from a distance. I had the panoramic view.
I saw the high highs. This is when the markers really squeaked. When blank pages were filled with boxes and arrows and words…and really big ideas.
I also saw the low lows. An RFP met with cold sweat. Everyone silently praying that someone would spit out something original. When that didn’t happened, we pitched re-skinned ideas and we lost business.
I noticed a pattern. The brainstorming sessions where the ideas flowed? There was a process that got everyone energized and thinking creatively.
The sessions that tanked? A lot of sitting around with pads of paper and crossed arms. No structure. No spark. No ideas.
—written by Amal Masri
Early in my career, I had an opportunity to work with Tetra Pak in Sweden. They were having a global conference and they asked me to come over and work as their facilitator. In fact, they asked me to fly over earlier so I could be trained in the fashion that their global facilitators were trained. What I didn’t know then was that what I was exposed to, and the training I received, in Sweden were the fundamentals of the Creative Education Foundation. The Creative Education Foundation teaches both adults and children how to use Creative Problem Solving to develop new ideas, solve problems, and implement creative solutions. When I was exposed to the training in Sweden, and realized there was an incredible process around getting to big ideas, I knew I had finally found my dream.
I brought that training back here to Canada, worked on customizing it so that it fit my style, branded it BigStorming®, and started using it in my own advertising agency, Square Peg Inc. I loved saying to clients, “You have a brief? Great. C’mon in and we’re going to do the brainstorming all together (co-creation) as opposed to us running away into a creative cave and coming back to you with a big presentation.” And that’s how it all started.
I am now fully trained and certified by the Creative Education Foundation. I attend their annual conference CPSI, to brush up, get more training and learn new skills and methodologies. When I first attended CPSI, I knew I had found my tribe when everyone in the room pulled out their personal boxes of markers and crayons. All my life I had been looking for my dream – and here it was! This kind of work spoke to me. I loved it and I was good at it! It was at CPSI that I decided to follow my dream once and for all. Sure, there were hundreds of fearful moments of leaving the regular paycheque of the advertising agency business and going out on my own. But I knew that this was my passion. I also knew that within both agencies and the organizations they represented there was no process like this being used, so there was a huge need and an exciting opportunity.
My system is called BigStorming®, which is ‘big ideas’ combined with brainstorming. It’s founded in the principles of the Creative Education Foundation – divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking means: go out there and get all kinds of random stimuli. Convergent thinking means, apply it to a well written, strategically sound task. I have created a multitude of creative exercises designed specifically to unleash the absolute best in both divergent and convergent thinking, therefore resulting in big breakthrough ideas.
At the core BigStorming® is our subconscious. I think as children we just do – we run, we play, we create, and we imagine. Somewhere around age 9 or 10 in school, it’s taught out of us. “Sit still, don’t fidget. Don’t play. Don’t play! Now it’s time to learn.” What I’ve learned is that when we play, we tap into our subconscious. Also when we play, we generally engage both our left and right hands. That means we actually engage 80% of our brain power. I’m also trained as a LEGO® Serious Play® facilitator and here’s a key insight: the use of both hands simultaneously makes your brain work better, faster and more creatively. I use a variety of tactile toys like Play-Doh, Chinese Yo-yo’s, and Slinkys, as well as scented markers and crayons. Adults generally, are never given permission to play. In BigStorming®, controlled play is vital to reaching breakthrough big ideas.
Retro toys and crafts give adults permission to go back to that place in their childhood where they could play, create and dream. Thoughts would come randomly, and creativity was both easy and spontaneous. I try to replicate that childhood openness and freedom in BigStorming®. It is not only magical, it is guaranteed to work every time.
In BigStorming®, controlled play is vital to reaching breakthrough big ideas.
Big Ideas Guaranteed.
And big ideas shape the future.
“ I am hopeful that I might yet persuade you to play a more permanent on-going role in my MBA program. ”
Ashley Konson, Course Director, Brand Management MBA Program, Schulich School of Business, York University