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3: How to deal with bad brainstorming on a personal level

This page is intended for the first-time brainstormer and may also help you if you are the victim of badly run brainstorming. It is intended to highlight some thoughts on how you should approach a badly run brainstorming session for maximum benefit and pleasure.

Going to your first brainstorming session can sometimes be slightly frightening and you may be a little nervous about what to expect. Hopefully by reading the whole of this training course you will be much less concerned about it and will be looking forward to taking part. A brainstorming session that is run well will be a welcoming place for both you and your ideas. You should be made to feel part of the group and that you are tackling the problem as a group and are not being individually analyzed for the suggestions you make.

The main problems with brainstorming arise because the rules are either not set out or they are not followed. If you feel that many ideas are being met with stony silence or, worse, critical remarks and gestures then it is all going wrong. Just do what you can and make some helpful comments to the person running the session. You could even let them know you have found this useful website (www.brainstorming.co.uk) and they may be interested in looking at it. The main thing to do if you have found yourself in a badly run brainstorming session is to make the best of it you can - and then to change it in the future. Don't just give up.

The first few sessions you are involved in are likely to be strange because of the unfamiliar atmosphere and purpose. Brainstorming often flies in different directions at the same time and no final solution is in place at the end of it (that is done after the brainstorming session and is called an analysis session). You should familiarize yourself with the rules and techniques and encourage them to be followed. If in doubt take a copy of the rules from this website and make sure everybody knows them. Being in a very bad brainstorming session can sometimes have worse results than a normal business meeting and can have long lasting negative effects. Don't just sit there, change the process or introduce people to the benefits of advanced brainstorming.

What do you do on a personal level if the session is so restrictive that you do not feel comfortable putting forward your ideas?
  1. Take some paper and a pencil and write down your own ideas as they occur to you. Hand them to the session leader at the end of the session.

  2. Although it is not in the spirit of brainstorming, you may need to evaluate your own ideas before suggesting them so that you only put your reasonable ideas forward.

  3. Start off your suggestions with "This may sound silly but ..." or "This may not work in itself but I am sure we can develop it into something that does, ..." or "In the spirit of brainstorming I suggest that ..."

  4. In the break ask if anyone has used any of the advanced brainstorming techniques detailed in this website. NB. make sure you know how to do them (or have the website/software ready) because you will probably be asked to explain them.

  5. Purposefully build on the wild ideas put forward by others. This will both allow you to share any "blame" with other people and will also encourage other people to see your own ideas as an original stimulus.

  6. Murmur approval when someone follows the rules and disapproval when someone breaks the rules. Suggest giving someone a yellow card as a warning (as a referee would in a soccer match) if they criticize someone's idea.

Other ideas on making brainstorming sessions better in the future:

  • Read the rest of this website for ideas and suggestions.
  • Start your own brainstorming sessions and show people what can be achieved.
  • Learn and practise the techniques by yourself (see the section: brainstorming on your own)
  • Become the "expert" in brainstorming because then you can do whatever you want and people will think that you are doing it right!
  • To start with, put forward as many radical ideas as you can, but make sure you suggest sensible ones too to show that you are working by the rules and not being unnecessarily radical.

One of the interesting things we have found is that if you put yourself forward as being "creative" then people will believe you and allow you to be as creative as you want. They will often "permit" you to do things in the name of creativity if you first let them know that you are doing it. Also remember: people only ever expect perfection from themselves; no one actually expects perfection from other people.

We will now have a look at how the introduction of new people from other departments and areas of expertise can improve brainstorming sessions.

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