Overcome the pitfalls of brainstorming

Did a brainstorm session ever feel like a complete waste of time? Do dominant colleagues, sidetracked discussions, and ideas that end up in the bin sound familiar? If so, we are talking about classic cases of brainstorming gone wrong.

Part of the problem is the misconception that there exists just one approach to brainstorming: a group of people put together in a meeting room to crank out ideas. While the traditional approach is not necesarily wrong, it also is not the most fruitful and inspiring approach to brainstorming.

For example, a well-known pitfall of the traditional approach is that people fixate on the first couple of pitched ideas. These ideas dominate the rest of the brainstorm sessions and obstruct other ideas from entering the group. Likewise, not everyone is happy with the thought of being the center of attention. Let alone if you are about to pitch an idea that might be considered weird.

Does the traditional approach not work out? Then don’t hesitate to give one of the following 5 variations a shot.

1 – Stepladder

Stepladder brainstorming encourages people to first contribute their own ideas before seeing the ideas of others.

  1. The coördinator explains the topic to the whole group.
  2. All but two participants leave the room.
  3. The two participants discuss the topic and their ideas.
  4. The two participants invite another participant.
  5. The new participant shares her ideas.
  6. Repeat until the group is complete again.

+ Reduced peer pressure.

– Time-consuming.

2 – Rapid brainstorming

Rapid Ideation applies time limits to put some pressure on the session.

  1. The coördinator explains the topic to the whole group.
  2. A timer is set.
  3. Participants write down and draw all ideas that come to mind.

+ Keeps participants focused.

– A lot of pressure to perform.

3 – Figuring storming

What idea would Einstein, Elvis or Obama come up with? Start role-playing and introduce a fresh perspective.

  1. The coördinator explains the topic to the whole group.
  2. Assign characters to participants.
  3. The participants share their ideas.
  4. Switch characters.

+ Playful.

– Prone to sidetracking.

4 – Reverse storming

Unleash your inner villain. This time, we are not interested in answering problems, but causing them!

  1. The coördinator explains the topic to the whole group.
  2. Create questions like: “How might we prevent students from living a healthy life?”
  3. Answer the questions.
  4. Reverse the answers.

+ More insight in the design challenge.

– Prone to sidetracking.

5 – Round Robin

Are participants too vocal or quiet? Round Robin Storming makes everyone contribute in equal weight.

  1. The coördinator explains the topic to the whole group.
  2. Assign each participant with a turn to pitch their idea.
  3. The coördinator writes down all ideas.
  4. Discuss ideas when all initial ideas are pitched.

+ Participants contribute in equal weight.

– No organic flow.

Olivier Wouters

Olivier grew up in a design office. The designers and architects there showed him how to use design to innovate. In 2016 he graduated as MSc Information Studies: Human Centered Multimedia at the University of Amsterdam. He since specialised in Design Thinking and Meaning-Driven Innovation.