How has The Onion managed to come up with so many hilarious headlines for so many years? According to a recent TED Ideas post by ex-Onion staffer Brian Janosch, the answer is a good, three-step brainstorming technique:
- Create ideas alone. "At The Onion, every story begins as a headline. There is no general call for ideas; instead, there is a call for 15 headlines from every writer," Janosh explains. The Onion's process begins with everybody coming up with their own ideas separately.
- Vet ideas as a group. "Because The Onion is dealing with such a high volume of headlines, it actually holds a short pre-meeting before the main creative session. This pre-meeting brings everyone together solely to separate the gems from the garbage--and 60 percent to 70 percent of the headlines are killed in an hour," he continues.
- Build on the best together. Finally, "people pitch and propose how each headline might play out as a full story; many of them can't. Only 3 percent of headlines survive this process, but those that do are rich and three-dimensional," he says.
There are obviously aspects of this process that are going to be unique to a media company. Your organization isn't likely to need hundreds of joke headlines a week. But the underlying process can work for nearly any company.