Trigger a true brainstorm by avoiding these obstacles

Brainstorming sessions are common when teams are looking for new ideas. And although they’re frequently useful, they can also actually inhibit creative thought unless leaders and participants manage them carefully.

Before you call that meeting, be ready to guard against these common brainstorming pitfalls:

• Fear of criticism. Even though brainstorming meetings aren’t supposed to reject ideas no matter how far-fetched they are, participants may censor themselves, knowingly or unconsciously, for fear of embarrassment or criticism—especially if there’s a boss in the room. Address this up front and encourage everyone to speak as freely as possible. Maybe keep managers out of the session, at least in the beginning, to promote a free flow of ideas.

• Extroverts taking over. People who are more assertive and talkative may dominate the session with their ideas, even if they don’t mean to. Introverts may feel intimidated, or they may simply need more time to present their ideas. Make an effort to get everyone involved. Go around the room one by one, for example, instead of letting everyone shout out their thoughts wildly.

• Distrust of novelty. Despite our best efforts, our minds generally drift toward the tried and true. People may unintentionally shut down their imaginations in search of “practical” ideas, or ignore off-the-wall concepts because of the risk involved. Ask some questions that take the problem out of the realm of the concrete—what color would a solution look like, for example? Or, what kind of animal does this situation resemble?

• Inadequate incubation. Great ideas don’t always arrive in an instant. Springing a problem on a team and expecting instant brilliance may lead to stale ideas in new packaging. Give people time to consider the issue: Tell them ahead of time what you’ll be discussing instead of making it a surprise, or hold a follow-up session to generate more ideas that people didn’t think of the first time.


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