Four Reasons Your Brainstorming Sessions Aren’t Successful

After the previous post about why brainstorming doesn’t work for many people, I received a number of comments from people who like to do it, but don’t get good results.  If you’re a brainstorming person, and the method works for you, here are four keys that might make it more productive.  By bringing multiple perspectives to the table, your team gains insight you might never have considered, plus you’re adding years of experience to solving the creative problem. But most brainstorming sessions don’t yield much – or fail completely. If that’s your problem, here’s four key reasons you’re not getting more from your creative team:

1) People don’t take it seriously.   Effective brainstorming is serious business. You need to find the right location, eliminate distractions, have a clear set of goals, understand the problem, and assemble the right people. If you think brainstorming is about eating donuts and “kicking around ideas,” you’re probably wasting your time.

2) People judge too soon.   Never start judging ideas until you get them all on the table. Even more important – never criticize anyone, even if you think their idea is lame. Once you criticize someone in the room, they get embarrassed, pull back, and stop sharing ideas. And who knows? Their next idea might have been the one that saved the company.  After you get everyone out on the table, then you can start being more critical.  Because without eventually judging the ideas, your session will always fail.

3) People expect quick answers.   The key to brainstorming is percolation. Like good coffee or fine wine, ideas need to simmer and age. They need to encounter other perspectives. They need to develop. Brainstorming is about getting ideas out there, comparing them to others, and sifting through ideas that won’t work. That simply takes time.

4) People are afraid they’ll look stupid.  Truly effective brainstorming means that the participants have to be vulnerable. They need to shed their ego at the door, and lose their fear of being wrong. Picasso said, “It’s taken me all my life to have the mind of a child.” When you have a team that can reach that place of openness and vulnerability, you have a chance to discover breakthrough ideas.

How does your team stack up with these benchmarks for brainstorming?

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  1. Thanks for the great article! Have you met C. McNair Wilson? I think you would really resonate with his new book, Hatch! Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer. It’s a fun, inspiring, and ultimately transformational read…

  2. Interesting timing. I just started reading “Hatch: Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer” by C. McNair Wilson who was formerly a Disney Imagineer. I’m only a few pages in and can already see that he’s going to take my imagination and strategy in this regard to a whole new level.

  3. I think brainstorming is great fun, but too often it is approached as obligatory chore to declare “I got input”. Not only do the participants have to be willing to be vulnerable, but the leaders should be willing to REALLY entertain new ideas. Great points about judging too soon too.

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