May 13, 2008
26 Reasons Why Most Brainstorming Sessions Fail (and what you can do about it)

boring meeting.jpg

Whenever I ask Idea Champions clients to tell me about the quality of brainstorming sessions in their company, they usually roll their eyes and grumble. Bottom line, most brainstorming sessions don't work. Not because brainstorming, as a process, doesn't work -- but because it's usually done poorly.

What follows are the 26 most common reasons why -- and after that, a list of what you can do differently to turn things around:

1. Poor facilitation
2. Wrong (or poorly articulated) topic
3. Unmotivated participants
4. Insufficient diversity of participants
5. Inadequate orientation
6. No transition from "business as usual"
7. Lack of clear ground rules
8. Sterile meeting space
9. Hidden (or competing) agendas
10. Lack of robust participation
11. Insufficient listening
12. Habitual idea killing behavior
13. Attachment to old ("pet") ideas
14. Discomfort with ambiguity
15. Hyper-seriousness (not enough fun)
16. Endless interruptions
17. PDA addiction (Crackberries)
18. Impatience (premature adoption of the first "right idea")
19. Group think
20. Hierarchy and/or competing sub-groups
21. Imbalance of divergent and convergent thinking
22. No tools and techniques to spark the imagination
23. Inelegant ways of capturing new ideas
24. No time for personal reflection
25. Pre-mature evaluation
26. No follow-up plan


1. Find, train (or hire) a skillful facilitator
2. Make sure you're focusing on the right challenge.
3. Invite people who really care about the topic.
4. Invite people with diverse points of view.
5. Spend time clarifying the "current reality".
6. Start with a fun icebreaker to help change mindset.
7. Ask participants to establish clear meeting ground rules.
8. Design (or find) a more inspiring meeting space.
9. Establish alignment re: session goals.
10. Find ways to engage the least verbal participants.
11. Establish "deep listening" as a ground rule. Model it.
12. Invite participants to name classic idea killing statements.
13. Elicit the group's pet ideas in the first 30 minutes.
14. Explain how ambiguity is part of the ideation process.
15. Tell stories, play music, invite humor.
16. Go offsite. Put a "meeting in progress" sign on the door.
17. Collect all PDAs/cell phones. Establish "no email" ground rule.
18. Go for a quantity of ideas. Let go of perfectionism.
19. Encourage individuality, risk taking, and wild ideas.
20. Ask people to leave their titles at the door.
21. Start with divergent thinking. End with convergent thinking.
22. Use tools and techniques to spark original thinking.
23. Enroll scribes, use post-its, have an idea capture process.
24. Create time for individuals to reflect on new ideas.
25. Explain that evaluation will happen at the end of the session.
26. Identify and enroll "champions". Explain the follow up process.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at May 13, 2008 07:45 AM

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