Five signs you’re hosting a brainstorm all wrong (and how to fix it)

By: Hilary Lawton, Account Director

Hosting a brainstorm may seem like a fool-proof task, but surprisingly, it’s something people do more incorrectly than not. Even when you arm yourself with different brainstorming techniques, not understanding the basic elements to avoid can prove to be the deciding factor between hosting a creative goldmine and a time-wasting disaster.

So, to execute a successful ideation session, consider these blunders and helpful tips to ensure your next brainstorm is effective (aka will rock your participants’ worlds).

  1. Abandoning the warm-up: Just like any muscle – our creativity muscle needs to warm-up before it can function at peak performance. Not only does a warm-up allow participants to practice looking at new perspectives, but research shows that laughter can help people solve problems that demand creative solutions. A favourite technique of mine is Pictionary.
  2. Inviting likeminded people. Brainstorming is about the diversity of thought. Inviting individuals with a similar mindset will only generate similar ideas.
  3. Limiting the number of ideas. This one may come as a shock, but brainstorming is about quantity not quality. The more ideas generated, the better chance the star idea will come to light.
  4. Using one technique. Brainstorms are usually set up in a way where a few people do 60% – 70% of the talking. This often leads to “anchoring”, a cognitive bias when we rely on the first or dominate idea (the “anchor”), thereby crushing originality. To adapt to the various extroverts and introverts in the group, incorporate different practices.
    • Brain Writing– The team leader shares the topic with the team, and team members individually write down their ideas. Ideas can then be shared by the team leader or by the individuals.
    • Rapid Ideation– The group is given context beforehand with information or questions on the topic. Then, a time limit is set for individuals to write down as many thoughts or ideas around the topic as possible.
    • Round Robin Brainstorming– Once the topic is shared, go around the circle one-by-one and have each person offer an idea until everyone has had a turn.
  5. Forgo preparing. As the organizer, showing up to the room at the same time as your participants is a sure fire way to have the group never agree to another one of your “time sucking” gatherings again. Preparing in advance how the brainstorm will flow, what techniques you will use and what you want to achieve will add the necessary structure to keep participants coming back for more.

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