Why Most Brainstorming Fails, And What to Do About It

Updated on: 21 September 2023 | 5 min read

Brainstorming, often the go-to method for generating fresh ideas and solving complex problems within teams, has a mixed reputation. While some individuals thrive on the creative energy it brings, others dread the thought of it. So, why do many brainstorming sessions end up being ineffective, leaving participants staring expectantly at each other, instead of producing innovative ideas? In this article, we will explore why brainstorming often falls short of expectations and provide practical solutions to transform this process into a powerful tool for idea generation.

Why Brainstorming Often Falls Short

The Missing Elements in Traditional Brainstorming

1. Unclear Directives Traditional brainstorming often involves reading a set of directions: defer judgment, focus on quantity, look for wild ideas, and build on other ideas. However, more often than not, teams merely go through the motions without truly following these fundamental steps. Brainstorming sessions frequently devolve into discussions (or even venting sessions) rather than the creative idea-generating gatherings they should be.

2. Lack of Creative Practice Think about great sports teams, symphony orchestras, and fire departments; they all practice their craft to perform effectively under pressure. However, when was the last time you practiced being creative? Most people can’t recall. The absence of creative warm-up exercises before brainstorming sessions can hamper the generation of truly innovative ideas.

3. Undefined Problem Statements Effective brainstorming hinges on identifying the right problem to solve. Often, problem statements are poorly framed or overly broad, leading teams to generate ideas that miss the mark. How you define a problem, so it impacts the solutions you generate, making problem definition a crucial aspect of successful brainstorming.

So…What do you do about it?

Though brainstorming can be challenging, it doesn’t mean we should abandon it. It just means you just have to tweak your process to make sure brainstorming becomes a dynamic force for innovation by capturing its true potential

1. Setting Clear Objectives Before starting a brainstorming session, clearly communicate the purpose, expectations, and agenda. Show your team that you value their time by making every minute count.

Mind Map Template for Brainstorming Guide

2. Promoting Quantity Over Quality Encourage participants to generate many ideas, even if they initially seem wild or unconventional. Wild ideas often lead to breakthroughs, and building on these ideas can foster creativity.

3. Practice Makes Perfect Create an atmosphere for creative practice. Use facilitators to guide the process and incorporate warm-up exercises to engage and energize participants. Remember, the silliness of these exercises is intentional and can lead to more innovative thinking.

4. The Art of Problem Framing Challenge your initial impression of the problem. Reframe questions to stimulate innovative solutions. Avoid statements and use questions that begin with “How might we…” to encourage open-minded thinking.

Things to Try During Your Next Brainstorm

1. Individual Reflection Time: Include moments of quiet and individual brainstorming during your session. By allowing participants to jot down their ideas privately before group collaboration, you create an environment where everyone has the space to express their thoughts freely and think outside the box.

2. Focused Brainstorming: Instead of tackling broad topics like “marketing ideas,” refine your focus to specific categories, such as “social campaigns for summer activities.” A well-defined focus sharpens the team’s mindset, leading to quicker and more unexpected suggestions.

Brainstorming Board Template

3. Pre-Brainstorm Preparation: Encourage team members to prepare by making a list of ideas before the meeting. This pre-brainstorming exercise aligns with Osborn’s principles of deferring judgment, striving for quantity, and seeking wild ideas in advance, allowing the group to focus on collaborative innovation during the session.

Use this ice breaker template to get teammates interacting freely

4. Dynamic Group Sizes: Research suggests that sticking with a single, static group can lead to various challenges, such as one dominant voice or unspoken ideas. To foster diversity and encourage a broader range of ideas, try with different group sizes. Allow members to leave and return or mix and match small groups throughout the brainstorming session.

5. Embrace Digital Tools: Consider digital brainstorming using platforms like virtual whiteboards. This approach has proven effective in reducing production blocking and fostering a fearless atmosphere for contributing risky or unexpected ideas.

Brainstorming Template

6. Beyond Solution-Centric Brainstorms: Challenge the conventional problem-solving approach by brainstorming something other than solutions. Instead of focusing on answers, try brainstorming the most pressing questions, engage in word-association exercises, or create collaborative mood boards of images and photos. These alternative brainstorming methods encourage fresh perspectives and innovative approaches to age-old problems.

Unleashing the Power of Effective Brainstorming

Brainstorming doesn’t have to be a dreaded or ineffective process. By acknowledging the common pitfalls and implementing structured brainstorming, creative warm-up exercises, thoughtful problem definition, and these practical techniques, you can significantly increase the effectiveness of your brainstorming sessions. Not only will you generate more innovative ideas in a short period, but your team will also find the process enjoyable and rewarding. Start applying these strategies at your next brainstorming session, and watch the transformation unfold as you unlock the true potential of your team’s creativity.

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Chiraag George Communication Specialist

Chiraag George is a communication specialist here at Creately. He is a marketing junkie that is fascinated by how brands occupy consumer mind space. A lover of all things tech, he writes a lot about the intersection of technology, branding and culture at large.

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