Why brainstorming doesn’t work…

… but how you can turn it around.

I’ve brainstormed. A lot. I’ve also participated in my fair share of brainstorming sessions. If there is one thing I have learned while participating is that they don’t always work and can actually put a damper on creativity— the whole point of holding the session in the first place.

People who are often asked to come to a brainstorming session are often intimidated, and for good reason. How many times have you sat and listened to someone come up with some crazy idea that would never fly with a client just to hear another person shoot it down immediately? Or perhaps someone came up with an idea that wasn’t fully worked out just to have someone grill them and ask several questions as to how they can pull it off? Or how about the common reply of “No, that just won’t work”.


I’ve heard more criticism and negativity come from a brainstorming session than I have heard from Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmare! What ever happened to the concept of free flowing ideas? It’s no wonder people don’t want to speak up in those sessions. Who wants to start or end their day being criticized for just coming up with random ideas and thoughts that they didn’t really want to do in the first place?

In my experience, the best ideas are generally the most outrageous ideas thrown out there. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a fully thought out idea. What matters is that you HAVE an idea. The fun part is coming up with ways to create, polish and make it happen.

How can you turn that sour brainstorming session around and have some thriving ideas that will leave your employees amped up? I’ve put on several successful brainstorming sessions over the past few years by following a few simple guidelines that I have found helpful over time:

  1. Have an agenda to hand out so people know what to expect and how long each section will last.
  2. Bring a stopwatch and keep track of time so you don’t spend too much time on a single activity.
  3. Have different brainstorming activities planned. If you need some suggestions, I recommend getting this book.
  4. Have a parking lot that you can post ideas to that you’ll want to revisit at a later time. Those are especially helpful for the next brainstorming session.
  5. Invite more then just the management team. Everyone has good ideas and the people who are at the heart of your business are your customers, assistants and cleaning staff along with many others.
  6. No ouching.

What does “no ouching” mean? It means that you are not allowed to say anything negative or shut down any ideas at any time, regardless of how crazy they might seem. I would even encourage giving everyone an “ouch” sign to have so that if someone breaks the rule, they can hold up the sign to show they’ve been ouched and can call out the offender.

With some careful planning and some simple guidelines, your staff can really shine and come up with some brilliant ideas that even the most creative mind couldn’t have come up with. If you need any additional advice or tips, feel free to contact us. Good luck!

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