Brainstorm Survivor

I’ve had the opportunity in my life and career to take part in a good number of brainstorming sessions, many of which included groups of 10 or more people in a room with the sole intention of generating ideas (or so we thought).

Brainstorming in its purest form, is simply the challenge of coming up with as many ideas particular to a given topic/challenge. Nothing more, nothing less. A great session could go on for hours; in fact there are some teams who participate in multi-day off sites purely dedicated to brainstorming ideas. On the other-hand, a poor one can end before it even begins.

Choose your participants carefully.

One creative person with limitless imagination can out generate an infinite number of skeptics when it comes to ideas. It isn’t about the number of participants that you invite into your brainstorming sessions, it’s about the type of person.

Top Brainstorming Characteristics


In brainstorming it is imperative that all ideas are seen as good ideas and people who lean naturally towards positivity will not smirk, grimace, grunt or shake their head when an idea that is completely out of left field is presented. They also tend to have not only positive attitudes but also positive body language.

Nothing will shut down a great brainstorming session faster than a group who is afraid to share ideas because Shirley in the corner is scoffing at every idea as she sits with her arms cross in the corner.

Outside the Box Thinking:

Of course every one thinks they fit the description here but if you’ve known someone longer than a week you should struggle to identify those that can’t make at least a reasonable argument that perhaps the sky is really green.

Outside the box thinkers aren’t conspiracy theorists, most of them would have been excluded at point #1 (positivity). Outside the box thinkers are the ones that are constantly chasing new ideas and the first ones to propose solutions to problems rather than just continuing to point to the issues. They don’t have to wear horn-rimmed glasses, walk barefoot to work, or stand on their head while chanting, they just approach ideas through a limitless lens.

Brainstorming Icebreaker:

Before you start any brainstorming session it’s not outside of reason to prime the minds of your participants. Maybe you have folks who have been staring at spreadsheets all day, others who have been listening to customers express their frustrations, you need to reset and prime for creativity.

We’ve all likely played the game of categories.

Choose something simple to start with the first round such as colours. This is an effective one to weed out those in the wrong mindset early.

We all know there is a high potential for someone in the room to point a finger and claim that a colour isn’t a colour it’s a shade. Suddenly you’ve alienated all of the creative thinkers in the room who are consider now whether the colour they’ve chosen to blurt out next is a shade or a colour.

An argument ensues to your left regarding colour definitions, and to your right regarding how stupid it is that we’re arguing colour definitions and one more argument across the table about whether the dress Shirley is wearing White or Black.

That person needs to go, it’s not that they aren’t creative or perhaps couldn’t provide further insight into your session at a later time but they have already identified themselves as someone better suited for weeding through the brainstorming ideas for effectiveness, rather than someone prepared to brainstorm effectively. They also have a high likelihood to end your brainstorming session before it begins.

Voting off the Island

Brainstorming sessions can start slow or fast. Sometimes all it takes is one idea to set-off the chain reaction of ideas that you’re looking for. In the colour example perhaps it starts out as Red, Green, Blue and suddenly someone pipes up with Lavender and the entire room has been unlocked to an exponentially larger list of colours than previously trending towards.

Regardless of how the session starts, the moment, and I mean the very moment an idea is questioned as potentially not working, or someone shakes their head no, begins to fold their arms and disengage in the storm. Remove them. They will not check back in, its over for them and before they alienate the entire group they simply should be thanked for their time.

Bring them back in to SWOT the ideas later, but for now you’re aiming to continue with those who have found their idea rhythm.

Keep doing this until there is no one left. The goal here is idea generation remember. There are never enough ideas at this stage. Think about it like building a sales funnel, and you need to fill the top of that funnel before you move to stage two.

Only Caveat

Going back to the colour example it’s important to note that brainstorming does in fact become ineffective when we’re no longer talking about colours. A good brainstorming session should go off the rails at least once or you’re being too safe with your ideas.

Set the stage at the beginning of your session that you’re looking for ideas relating to your topic. Loosely define the terms of the topic without getting into too much detail, and if you feel things are moving in the wrong directly simply go back to an earlier idea that was more effective and work to build down that thought trajectory.

No idea is a bad one, but just like the sales funnel you’re hoping for more qualified ideas than unqualified ones.

Brainstorming can be an incredibly effective idea generator or an even more effective waste of time. Using the tips in this article will hopefully give you some tools to find that diamond in the rough idea that is locked somewhere deep in the confines of an effective brainstorming session.