Brilliant Brainstorming: Why Brainstorming Often Doesn’t Work
8th January 2010
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Albert Einstein is attributed as saying "We can't solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." 

So often the outcomes of brainstorming disappoint for this very reason: we use old thinking.  Have you ever sat looking at a blank sheet of paper trying to think up something new and different? Do you recall feeling completely blank? It’s not always easy to get going.

To make brainstorming deliver the goods we need to set it up so we can get past that “blank page”. This short series of blog postings on Brilliant Brainstorming will give you some insights on how to set things up so that brainstorming really works adding value to your efforts.

Take just a moment to think about some of the things that go wrong.


Few if any really new ideas emerge

While it can be really useful to recall ideas, a brainstorming session is usually set up when the old ideas don’t get you anywhere. The problem is that few new ideas seem to emerge and the brainstorming session never seems to really get going.

Why does this happen? People tend to think in set ways and that is the root of Einstein’s observation.  The corollary to this is that we need to find ways of generating new thinking.

Diversity helps to stimulate different thinking, i.e. have people with a range of backgrounds and experiences in the room. Invite a guest brainstormer specifically because they will have a different view of things.

Finding ways of changing people’s perspectives and stimulating their creativity also helps enormously. This will be the subject of the next posting in this blog series. 


Not everyone contributes to the process.

Some team members, perhaps those you were counting on, just don’t seem to live up to expectations and don’t seem to contribute much.

This can occur if one of the golden rules of brainstorming is broken.

During the idea generation stage there should be no assessment and no negative criticism of ideas. Opinionated and vociferous brainstormers can crush other contributors, especially if they are on the edge of their comfort zone and are concerned that their ideas sound silly. When that happens they don’t contribute but, as we are about to see, it is often the wackiest ideas that have greatest value when brainstorming.

It is essential for the facilitator to make sure that negative criticism doesn’t happen and to encourage even the most timid team members.


The ideas seem silly and impractical

Brainstorming is about generating lots of ideas but note; the ideas may not be practical in themselves. They may, however, be the germ of the solution or they may be the trigger that stimulates another person to come up with the brilliant, innovative, millionaire making idea.

Remember, that there are two main parts to the brainstorming process. The idea generation stage and the idea assessment stage, both are necessary but often Brainstorming is seen as only being the creative part – the first step. It’s the second step that turns the wacky into the practical.


Don’t Forget the Second Step

The assessment stage, usually done at a second meeting, considers and develops ideas into plans and practical outcomes. Expecting completed solutions to emerge from the idea generation stage alone and forgetting the assessment and development stage will assure that the brainstorm disappoints.  So remember that second step and plan to work on and develop the output of the idea generation stage.


I guess the implication of all this is that, like all efforts that deliver the goods, brainstorming needs preparation. Failure to prepare promotes failure to perform.

So, is it brainstorming or the brainstormers that don’t work?

To learn more about facilitating brainstorming, including the Brainstormer’s Check List you can subscribe to “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to Brainstorming”. This is a complimentary Creative Leader Bulletin mini-course in which you will learn how you can facilitate a brainstorming session so that it does not disappoint. To learn more click here

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