Brainstorming: A Place Where Good Ideas Go to Die


The right brain is fragile, emotional, easy to discourage.

Its nemesis: (1) our own left brain, and (2) the left brain of others.

Unfortunately, the left brain is determined, outspoken, and quick to wit.  It is this quick response that harms most, kills ideas, and discourages truly innovate thinking. 

The result: for some the right brain and its ideas want to hide, shrivel, and stay to itself.  Or, just die.

Brainstorming as safe haven.

Brainstorming can provide a temporary safe haven from left brain disapproval, a time and place where right brained utterances can be as crazy as they want to be.

Sometimes maybe.

Unfortunately, the blunders and spoils of group brainstorming are prevalent:

Verbal and nonverbal criticism creeps in without repercussion.  Brainstorming participants should check their logical left brains at the door.  And, brainstorm facilitators should ride roughshod on those that do not.

Criticism, evaluation, and prioritization of ideas or possible solutions are made during brainstorming rather than post brainstorming.  If done during the same brainstorming session, participants may take the criticism as personal.  If done as a post brainstorming evaluation session, the ideas are seen as less personal and more as from the team than any one individual.

The quick to share ideas fulfilling the request for “wild and wacky” are the first to go.  This method of post brainstorming evaluation discounts and discourages the primary need for brainstorming: quantity of ideas.  Instead, all ideas, including the wild and wacky, should be discussed for strengths and weaknesses.  An additional effort to “build upon” these ideas can lead to the truly most innovative solutions.

The “throw away” ideas are too quickly thrown away.  Sure, they may evoke concerns of: “costing too much,” “been there done that and failed,” or “the boss won’t like it.”  Instead, the easy to “throw away” ideas should be modified to make them more doable, useful, and properly considered.  From these ideas come the potential for great innovation.

The powers at be forget that there is no “I” in “team” and let individuals take the credit away from the brainstorming group.  If allowed, then a brainstorming session becomes an exercise in mediocre thinking and the best ideas are saved for individual accolades and kudos.

Indeed, bad brainstorming is a place where potentially good and innovative ideas go to die.

How not to kill ideas: easier said than done.

Yet the biggest gorilla in and outside the brainstorming room is the issue and uncertainty of what to say or do so as not to kill an idea or shatter the self-confidence of the idea originator.  This is particularly important when dealing with the fragile and most creative personality types, often the source of the most inventive solutions. 

Criticism kills ideas.  Insincerity kills ideas.  Silence kills ideas.  

The take-away.

All ideas need constructive criticism, feedback, and evaluation to make those ideas better. While someone has to pull the trigger on bad ideas, there is a time and a place.  Brainstorming is neither that time nor place.

Reading Assigments.

Eight Tips for Better Brainstorming by Robert Sutton

Is Brainstorming a Waste of Time? by Mark McGuinness @MarkMcGuinness

26 Reasons Why Most Brainstorming Sessions Fail (and what to do about it) by Mitch Ditkoff @MitchDitkoff 

Ideation Success Formula: Eight Suggestions to Improve the Odds by Gregg Fraley @GreggFraley

Brainstorming: the Good, the Bad, and the Do it Better by Denny McCorkle @TweetRightBrain 

“It is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one.” Alex Osborne

A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension.Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.  

If I have a thousand ideas and only one turns out to be good, I am satisfied.Alfred Bernhard Nobel


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One Comment on “Brainstorming: A Place Where Good Ideas Go to Die”

  1. Michael Plishka says:

    Great post! Excellent reminders here!


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