10 Deadly Brainstorming Ruts That Kill Innovation

by John Storm on November 6, 2010

 Are you stuck in a “brainstorming” rut? 

Most people think they know how to brainstorm.  Yet, few realize there is more to brainstorming than the one traditional method Alex Osborn created in the 1950’s (yes, LAST century).  A multitude of new methods, tools, and techniques have been developed in recent years.  Here are 10 deadly brainstorming ruts that kill innovation.

1.  “KIA’s” – KIA is the military acronym for those “Killed In Action”. Yet, Know It Alls (KIA’s) are the surest way to kill innovation. These are people who act like there’s no room to grow or learn.  Arrogance in all forms (a lack of openness to new ideas, current reality, or outside input) is a “killer”.  Being a lifelong learner is essential to staying innovative.  Don’t get KIA by being a Know It All.

2.  “Been There, Done That”  – Almost everyone puts brainstorming in a “box”.  They don’t realize there are over 25 different brainstorming tools and techniques.  Some work better with certain groups, projects or topics.  Often the best tools are the ones YOU create for your specific  needs.  S-T-R-E-T-C-H your M-I-N-D!

3.  “MIA” – Most people have participated in brainstorming sessions where a TON of ideas were generated.  Then, everybody got up, walked out and… NOTHING HAPPENED!  This is what’s called “Missing In Action”.  It’s critical to quickly move to key Evaluation and Implementation techniques that capitalize on team ownership, yet assign individual action steps.  Don’t forget the Action!

4.  “Failure Freeze” – Much of the traditional management and educational environment is geared toward the one right answer philosophy.  People are scared to make a mistake, yet the ability to “engage” risk that includes the possibility of failure is a vital component to being innovative.  Failure is an essential element of growth!  If you want more success, increase your failure rate!  Fail your way to success!

5.  “Blabbermouths Rule!” – Without a trained facilitator, brainstorming sessions tend to be dominated by the loudest or most outgoing participants.  Quiet team members can get run over, thus stifling some really great ideas.  Due to social inhibitions, it’s usually not the best idea to let the boss facilitate.  This is just one reason why new methods of brainstorming can be more effective.  Try new techniques!

6.  “We Got Lost!” – A clear direction, purpose, or goal for the session is CRITICAL!  Tangents are the norm.  It takes wise pre-session planning and a skilled facilitator to guide the discussion back to the goal without squelching genuinely useful ideas.  Knowing what’s a rabbit trail and when to chase it is an important skill you’ll need to stay on course.  Get a guide!

7.  “Rear-View Living” – Spending too much time  focusing on the past in Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda  thinking is dangerous.  Hindsight can offer great insight into problems, crisis, failure, and even success.  Yet, “rear view living”, especially if it turns into a blame game, is unproductive.  Focus on the Future!

8.  “Meeting Nausea”‘We’re SICK of meetings’  is often the unspoken team attitude… and justifiably so.  A GREAT brainstorming session is totally different than a normal ‘meeting’.  Make it an EXPERIENCE with amazing results by thorough preparation including: a clear purpose, strategic pre-planning, a spirit of experimentation in a ‘grace-filled’ environment, and even a good bit of fun and laughter.  Avoid normal meetings!

9.  “Bad Experience” – If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you usually avoid the culprit food for a long time.  Yet, you don’t give up on food altogether!  If you’ve experienced a toxic brainstorming session (perhaps led by an untrained facilitator or inhibiting boss, take some mental Pepto.  Get over it and try a new approach!

10. “The Fear Factor”“I’m scared.  What if we can’t solve the problem?  What if someone else comes up with a better idea than mine?  What if someone suggests an idea that means I might have to change?”  Fear is still a driving force in stifling innovation, whether it means personal or organizational growth.  Acknowledge your fear and then face it with renewed confidence.  You shall overcome!

So … what have I missed?   And what are your ideas for overcoming these brainstorming obstacles?  Let me know what you think.

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