Making Brainstorming Work

One of the most important skills that businesses need to develop is their ability to continuously innovate and stay ahead of their competition.

One of the meta skills that organisations will need to develop if they are to flex their innovation muscle is the ability to do great brainstorming sessions.

Earlier in the day, I stumbled onto the below video in which Bill Burnett talks about practices that can help you make your next brainstorming session highly productive.

Before I share my views on this topic, please take a few minutes to actually watch the video below.

Top Reasons why brainstorming sessions fail:

Too Less or Too Many people involved in the session.

Ideally, a brainstorming session works really well, when you have about 5-6 people as part of the group. Any less and you don’t have diversity and any more, it only adds confusion and a lot of complex group dynamics.

Lack of diversity of thought among the participants.

Brainstorming usually involves in coming up with different options or ideas, which means that you need to have people with different perspectives, which allows them to see the challenge from different angles and hence come up with different ideas. If everyone in the team thinks in a similar way, we end up with a situation of group-think, which generally carries a lot more risk of failure than of success.

One person dominates the discussion.

There are times when, you have someone senior leader in the group or an extrovert and if left to themselves, they have the ability to dominate the discussion, thereby killing the participation and engagement of the juniors and introverts in the team.

Lack of good facilitation or wrong prompts.

In general, all brainstorming sessions should be facilitated by someone. It’s best if the facilitator is someone from a different team (or an external consultant) who understands how brainstorming works. A lot of times, people get stuck and are unable to come up with original ideas. It is then the responsibility of the facilitator to use prompts to elicit creative ideas from the team.

Good facilitators add great value as they are able to break mental models and allow the teams to breakthrough their internal barriers to come up with extremely creative ideas. They allow the teams to make conceptual leaps to achieve high levels of creativity.

Process not done right.

In my experience, I have found that brainstorming works best, when you allow individuals to ideate by themselves and then discuss all these ideas as a group, with clear guidelines on what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

It’s usually a good idea to ask team to generate ideas by themselves, then share their ideas with the team . This allows the introverts & juniors members in the team to get their ideas heard.

No feedback is allowed when the ideas are being shared. Once all the ideas have been shared, similar ideas are categorised or clustered together. It is only at this stage that the teams can seek/provide feedback on each cluster.

Feedback like “This won’t work” or “can’t work” or “we have tried this earlier” are accepted and parked. If you have identified an idea as falling in one of these categories, you park the idea and move on. Once all other ideas are exhausted, the team then needs to discuss and explore how to make the ideas work instead of focusing on why they won’t or can’t work. If post this deliberation, the teams are not able to come up with ways to make the idea work, then they can still leave the ideas parked.

Process not completed:

Having all these ideas categorised and captured (maybe in a pic) is not the end of the process. The ideas still need to be prioritised using some framework. My favourite is the Desirability, Viability and Feasibility filter. Owners to be identified for each idea that gets selected. The owners need to agree upon a date/time/venue where they will share the first prototype of the ideas for feedback.


The ability to do highly productive brainstorming is like a keystone habit for organisation if they want to build their innovation capacity. When done well, these sessions are highly productive and if not done well, a colossal waste of time, money and effort.

Do share if you have any tips or ideas that make your brainstorming sessions rock.