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Posts Tagged ‘Traditional Brainstorming’

Want a Productive Brainstorm? Here Are Some Do’s and Don’ts

Posted by Plish on November 24, 2015

Came across a post at USA Today College: “5 tips for a Productive Brainstorming Session.”

I enjoy reading different people’s approaches to brainstorming.   However, this one had me screaming at the computer screen: “NO!”  After which I went to a different page, relaxed, came back the next day and re-read it.

Nope, no difference – still not the best advice.

Actually, to be fair, it’s a mixture of good and bad advice.  (These tips seem more apropos for a design review than for a brainstorming)

Let’s take a look at the 5 tips and look at their value.

1.Create the Right Environment – Actually, this paragraph gives good advice:  “Select a time to meet when you know you and your group members will have enough energy to think creatively … Choose a space conducive to creative thinking: a clean, quiet place with natural light and comfortable seating. Maintain that calm, creative environment by asking all group members to silence their phones and put them away to avoid being distracted by a text or Twitter update. 

2.Establish Structure – “Set a time limit for your meeting depending on how much work needs to get done so that everyone stays on task…Also, be sure to assign one group member the role of moderator…Choose a person who knows well both the purpose of the project and the personalities of everyone in the group.”  This is all pretty good advice. It’s crucially important that the moderator not be someone who is simply looking for confirmation of his/her idea.  This person really has to have the project’s success at heart.

3. Prioritize Your Goals – “Once some order is established, the moderator should outline a general overview of the project to help get everyone’s brains in the right place. After the project is sketched out, the moderator should clearly state the goal of the brainstorming session. Your group’s brainstorming session goal should be SMART—that is: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.  Avoid making overarching goals. For instance, if your project is for an environmental planning course requiring you to design an urban space, don’t simply say your goal is to: “Make the best urban design plan.” Make a SMART goal, like: “Design an urban space that is comfortable, functional, and eco-friendly in one week.””  This is the first tip that really got me going. If you’re giving people background, and the expected goal, as part of the brainstorming session, you’re already too late.  People need to understand the challenge, and they need time to think about it.  I realize this is for a college column, so giving people a long term heads up isn’t always possible.  But give people at least a day! (Give them a week of more if possible.  If you really can’t give a day, give a few hours to think about the challenge)   There’s very little hope of getting good output if your input is hurried and not reflected upon.  (Remember: Garbage in=Garbage out) Also, the brainstorming statement shouldn’t be a project statement.  Making it SMART isn’t a bad thing per se, but it would be much better to say, “In what ways can a comfortable, functional, ecofriendly urban space be designed?”  It would be even better to break it up into subsections, brainstorm on Comfort, Functionality and Ecofriendliness by dedicating time to each trait individually.  Remember, if you’re trying to get across a river, your problem statement shouldn’t say, “In what ways can we build a bridge over the river in a week?”, but instead, “In what ways can we get across the river in a week’s time?”  Or, “In what ways can we get 1000 people from this shore to the other shore?”  Leave some wiggle room.  Too specific and every solution will be a variation of a bridge.

4.  Write it Out – “Bring notepads, sticky notes, and/or a large whiteboard to your meeting. Ensure everyone has the opportunity to write down—or draw—his or her ideas. Jot down or sketch out every idea—not just those that sound best at the time—so that your group can build off others’ ideas as your brainstorming session progresses.”  Good points about drawing and writing!

5. Ask QuestionsWhen it comes to brainstorming, cooperation and collaboration go hand in hand. But if during a brainstorming session no one challenges any ideas, innovation is unlikely to occur. Agreeing on some things is good, but in general, it’s important to avoid group complacency—called groupthink—with every idea that is presented during a brainstorming session.  Avoid groupthink by assigning one group member the role of devil’s advocate. It’s this person’s job to raise at least one counterargument to every idea the group agrees on. These counterarguments shouldn’t be attacks, but should raise important questions about idea feasibility, integrity, and relevance that help move your brainstorming forward in a positive direction.” NOOOO! (The red highlight is mine – it means WT? )This one REALLY got me going.  Yes, innovation can occur in response to questioning, but the brainstorming is not the place for it.  You want free-flow of ideas, not critiquing.  If you give people time to understand the challenge and give them time to prepare and to brainstorm in private before the brainstorming session, you’ll get ideas that are somewhat baked.  You may not get the best idea until everyone has bounced their ideas off of each other, but you’ll do much better if you DON’T have a devil’s advocate.  Leave that for an after brainstorming tactical meeting: discussing the who, how, what, when, how much, etc’s, of implementing the best ideas.   If every idea is picked apart as part of the brainstorming meeting, I guarantee people will start self-censoring themselves during the brainstorm, and that’s the last thing you want happening.  As for Groupthink- read about the solutions here.  Again, if people can brainstorm on their own before the actual meeting, and people are encouraged to share during the meeting, groupthink is less likely to occur. It’s the moderator’s job to keep everyone involved and keep judgment to a minimum.  Worry about groupthink when you are in your post brainstorming tactical meeting,  THEN question.

So, what rules should be followed?

Here are the 7 rules that I post on the wall every time I lead a brainstorm:

  1. Every person has equal worth
  2. Withhold judgment of ideas (This includes your own!)
  3. Go for quantity
  4. Go for wild ideas
  5. Build on the ideas of others
  6. One conversation at a time
  7. Be visual, draw and prototype

If you’d like a Poster Size PDF of the above rules, click here .

As I’ve alluded to above, Brainstorming shouldn’t be just a one time event, it should be a three part process of Preparation, Brainstorming, and Follow-Up.  (Incidentally, all three of the phases usually include some type of brainstorming 🙂 )

Do you have any rules that you follow when brainstorming?





Posted in Best Practices, brainstorming, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Pros and Cons of Traditional Brainstorming

Posted by Plish on January 30, 2009

(courtesy of clamlynch.com)

(courtesy of clamlynch.com)

I recently wrote a blurb on Five (Weak) Reasons to do Brainstormings.  Now, there’s some wonderfully stimulating discussion going on over at the Lateral Action Blog.  They are discussing if/why traditional brainstormings should be done and are they a waste of time. 

The first blog entry stimulated much discussion and the second, based upon some comments by Your’s Truly, has continued the discussion.  So cruise on over and join the fun!

Posted in Creative Environments, culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, Nature of Creativity, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Five (weak) Reasons For Continuing To Use Team Brainstormings

Posted by Plish on January 22, 2009

The Five Reasons Why Team Brainstormings Are Still Done

The Five Reasons Why Team Brainstormings Are Still Done

Can any of us afford to not benefit from the creativity of every individual to the utmost?

If not, why then do we persist in using Team Brainstormings as the Gold Standard for idea generation?  

These are my top 5 reasons why people use team brainstorming:

  1. Team Building– That is true, brainstormings do build teams and create camaraderie.  But if the point of a brainstorming is to come up with lots of high quality ideas, then use the time for exactly that- albeit with some modifications. 
  2. Tradition!– The old, “It’s the way we always come up with great ideas around here,” syndrome.  That’s not a good reason.  That’s the reason why there’s still a market for cuff links.
  3. They Work – To a point, yes, they do.  But, there’s a deception going on because most people don’t have a “control” to compare to so they walk out of meeting with a stack of ideas and plan of attack and think that their well moderated meeting was a success.  The truth is that it could have been more successful!
  4. Two Heads Are Better Than One – This saying is also true to a point. The problem is that people think that if two heads are better, then 12 heads are sublime!  There is another phrase that is apropos for this situation: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
  5. They’re Fun! – I can’t really argue with this, but I know people who do, and they hate and fear team brainstormings!  Unfortunately, these people are super creative. Fortunately, they have been empowered to contribute in different ways so their talents aren’t lost.  This doesn’t mean that idea generation can’t be fun-it is!  But, there are other ways to have fun and come up with more quality ideas.

So, if team brainstormings aren’t the way to go, how should brainstorming be done?

I’ll leave it up to you to supply suggestions on how to increase the quality and quantity of ideas ala brainstorming. 

In the meantime, if you want to gain more insight into why team brainstormings don’t work, the first three pages of this study provide an excellent summary.

Posted in cognitive studies, culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Research, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , | 17 Comments »

The Problems with Traditional Brainstorming

Posted by Plish on September 26, 2008

Diehl, M., & Stroebe, W. (1991). Productivity loss in idea-generating groups: tracking down the blocking effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 392-403.

Mullen, B., Johnson, C., & Salas, E. (1991). Productivity loss in brainstorming groups: a meta-analytic integration. Basic and Applied Social Psychology. 12, 3-23.

Bernard A. Nijstad and Wolfgang Stroebe; How the Group Affects the Mind: A Cognitive Model of Idea Generation in Groups; Pers Soc Psychol Rev 2006; 10; 186


A perusal of any of the above peer-reviewed articles (and there are many more where those came from!) shows that there are some serious problems with traditional brainstorming sessions.  You know the type.  We’ve all been a part of those pull-multiple-people-into-a-room-for-hours-if-not-days-at-a-time-to-come-up-with-ideas meetings.

 The main issues with these types of meetings are:


  • Producton Blocking (People need to take turns to express ideas. Yes, this is a problem and it is the biggie!)
  • Social Matching (the lowest producing member of the group sets the pace for the meeting – believe it or not!)
  • Evaluation Apprehension (fear of judgement – shy team members are especially sensitive to this)
  • Free Riding (Individuals can’t really be held accountable in brainstormings so not everyone contributes.  It is an issue but very minor.)

Yet, in spite of the issues with brainstormings they continue to be done,most likely because most people never realized that brainstormings were inefficient in the first place.

Before I mention how we can improve our brainstormings, I’m sure many will say, ” Hey, we got the multi-million dollar idea out of a brainstorming!” To which I’ll respond, “How many more multi-million dollar ideas never even made it out into the open because of the inherent inefficiencies with brainstorming?” 


Think about it…


Can any of us afford to not benefit from the creativity of every individual to the utmost?

So…how do we make brainstormings work again?

The first way is to only use two people.  It seems that the above problems are minimized when only two people brainstorm with each other. Apparently there is something to be said for “bouncing ideas of someone.”  But when you only have two people, then you lose the effect of having more brains working on a problem.

The second is to go the ZenStorming route.  This method essentially permits everyone to create ideas simultaneously without fear of repercussion while also building upon each others’ ideas.  No fear of repercussions, no long meetings, and more quality ideas than you’ll know what to do with.

Think about it…

Posted in cognitive studies, Traditional Brainstorming, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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