People often think brainstorming is a complete waste of time and often it is.
However, it can also be an exciting experience where the room is buzzing and great
ideas are almost bouncing off the walls. Here are five key reasons why brainstorms
flop and what to do…
The facilitator is just scribing
If the facilitator is just scribing, they are crazily trying to capture all the ideas and
what’s happening behind their back is that one or two extroverted people are
shouting out all their ideas and dominating the session.
The facilitator needs to control the room, keep extroverts at bay and make sure
everyone is contributing. My trick to getting around this is to simply say: “Who
haven’t I heard from?’ In that moment the extroverts will pipe down and amazingly
the quiet ones always start speaking up with lots of great ideas. Make sure you ask
someone else to be the scribe while you facilitate the brainstorm.
The challenge isn’t defined
People often get lazy and kick off the brainstorm by reading through a three-page
brief. After reading through the whole brief they then settle on the business
objective to be the brainstorm challenge.
Firstly, when you get your whole team together in a room for an hour, that is a
luxury, so don’t waste it by reading through a brief that could have been emailed in
Secondly, the business objective is usually something like how to raise awareness
or how to sell more units. Going into a brainstorm with such a dull, business-like
challenge will not spark creativity. Find a way in and craft a challenge statement
ahead of time that is fun, juicy and makes participants excited about the
An example from a recent vitamin brand I worked on: rather than the brainstorm
challenge being how to get people to take brand X vitamins first thing in the
morning, a more specific and inspiring challenge would be: “How to become as
important as a morning coffee.’
The challenge is too broad
If the challenge is too broad you will get ideas that cover a lot of ground and the
brainstorm will jump from idea to idea with not much structure. You will finish the
brainstorm with half-baked ideas rather than some fully fleshed out big ideas. Make
sure you break your challenge up into mini challenges and tackle them separately.
Ideas are shut down prematurely
Nothing innovative ever sounded normal when it was first thought of. Think about
the iPhone – imagine the first time someone said we are going to create a mobile
phone with one button rather than the normal 13 buttons. Seemingly ridiculous
ideas can often be brilliant ideas if you let them breathe.
No divergent techniques are used
It can be hard to get people in a room and expect them to come up with brilliant
ideas. Often the first 15 minutes are good and then the ideas can run dry. Ideation
techniques can be great for taking people’s minds where they never would have
gone and helping them come up with highly creative ideas. An example of a
technique that I love is “Brands we envy’ – have people choose a brand that has
nothing to do with the challenge. (Nike, Redbull, The Body Shop). They must come
up with ideas for the challenge based on the way that other brand would solve it.
Please keep these five things in mind next time you facilitate a brainstorm.
Nicole Velik is a Creativity and Innovation Speaker, Trainer and Facilitator and
owner of The Ideas Bodega. She spoke at PromaxBDA Africa in November 2014. In
her talk she discussed better brainstorming techniques and gave the audience some
tools to combat the common mistakes.