Most companies are continually searching for new ideas – or should be if they aren’t. Some companies do not pursue innovative ideas because they lack the proper tools or know-how. Wherever you are on the spectrum of innovation, principles for effective brainstorming can support your mining for ideas. But just as we should consider principles that make your sessions fruitful, it is also important to consider how brainstorming techniques can go wrong.

Let us consider how brainstorming sessions can go wrong. Brainstorming techniques are tools and just as with any tool you use, if you fail to use it correctly, it can do harm.

Where It Goes Wrong

Brainstorming in itself is not difficult to do but you will undoubtedly find people around who think brainstorming is a waste of time. Their reasons are often due to the fact that brainstorming sessions they have sat in on went wrong and they offer statements like the following as evidence to support their claim:

  • It was chaotic.
  • Nothing came of it.
  • Nobody knew what we were dealing with.
  • One person did all of the talking and wouldn’t allow anyone else to speak.
  • Our ideas were all criticized by one person.
  • There was not enough time for me to share my ideas.

Unfortunately, many professionals stay away from or are reluctant to participate in brainstorming due to failed brainstorming sessions. If you or your team members have felt disillusioned or annoyed after brainstorming sessions, it could be a result of how your sessions are run. To make these points, let’s look at brainstorming as a game.

Play Fair

In the game of brainstorming, a set of rules should accompany it, just as with any other game. This is one of the biggest areas in which brainstorming sessions fail. Clearly defined rules can help a session go from a dud to a great accomplishment. Rules establish common ground for those participating and define the context/scenario, objectives and moves allowed to accomplish said objectives.

Without these rules, the game can get rough. For example, look back at one of the complaints mentioned previously: “Nobody knew what we were dealing with.” Team members were not given a clear scenario or context so they felt disillusioned. The same applies to objectives that are unclear.

The most important principle a brainstorming session should uphold is safety, meaning no proposal or individual is judged or criticized. This is the number one way to lower team morale. Brainstorming is about collaboration and creation, not competition.

To ensure a smooth and productive session, lay out some rules to encourage a positive mindset and mood for a brainstorming meeting while knocking out some of the other concerns listed above as well:

  • No judgment
  • No criticism
  • One voice at a time
  • One minute per idea
  • Sketch the idea
  • Build on others’ ideas
  • Have fun

When you have clear lines drawn, your brainstorming session will run more smoothly.