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Seven ways to kill a brainstorming session

The wrong words at the wrong time can bring a brainstorming session to a “screeching halt”, says Sam Harrison, writing for Fast Company. If you want to encourage innovative thinking, never use these seven sentences:

1) “Let’s hold our ideas until we can get out of the office.” A change of scenery can boost creativity but constantly delaying brainstorming until you’re out of the office blocks spontaneity and kills ideas, warns Harrison. Create an idea-generating space in your workplace instead – somewhere that is easy to access and always available – even if it is just a quiet hallway or staircase.

2) “OK, everybody, start tossing out ideas.” This kind of immediate call to action encourages the dominant members of the group to hold court while everyone else zones out. A much more effective session can be achieved by giving everyone a few minutes’ warm-up time and the chance to input ideas. Distribute Post-it notes and ask participants to post their ideas on a wall to kickstart a more energetic and productive discussion.

3) “We need to walk out of here with one great idea.” The author explains: “Brainstorming is right-brained, and editing is left-brained, and never the twain shall meet.” Limiting brainstormers to coming up with one good idea will stifle any creativity in the room. Harrison advises using brainstorming sessions to produce as many ideas as possible, and scheduling follow-up sessions for examining and selecting ideas.

4) “We’re all busy, so don’t waste our time with nonsense.” This is another statement guaranteed to curb creativity. Brainstorming should be a “safe haven” for nonsense, advises Harrison, “because from nonsensical imagination often come those original ideas that make perfect sense”.

Instead of discouraging crazy ideas, you should be encouraging your team to think “wacky”. Only this way will you all come up with something truly special.

5) “I’ll kick things off by telling you my ideas.” When the boss starts a brainstorming session like this, participants will either ditch their own ideas or run a mile in the other direction. Rather than stifling the ideas process, bosses should set the stage by defining the objective of the session and then sit back until much later on.

6) “Everybody keep their seats.” These words are usually implied rather than spoken, says the author, but when participants are immobile (and they often are), it’s hard for them to be creative.

Tell everyone it’s fine to stand up and move around: “Movement generates energy, and energy generates lively thinking,” comments Harrison.

7) “We’ve tried that before.” This kind of “idea slayer” is lethal to the creative processes that brainstorming should foster, says the author. Save opinions and judgement for follow-up sessions. During brainstorming everyone’s minds should be kept “open wide”.

Sam Harrison