7 Ways to Ruin a Brainstorming Session

A good brainstorming session basically requires a good moderator, a clear goal, and participants that are open to ideas, good problem solvers, and respectful of other people’s opinions. Even with all the right ingredients, it’s very easy to derail and entire brainstorming session with a few key words.

Here are 7 key phrases that will ruin almost any brainstorming session:

  1. “How is that any different from…?” Typically someone says something like for two possible reason. The first is they are overrating originality. Sometime an old solution is exactly what is needed in order to solve a problem. The second reason for saying something like is vanity. They want to be known as someone who knows the latest and greatest things.
  2. “I have a better idea.” By saying this, you are placing a value on the existing idea. As such, the person who offered the original idea is less inclined to give anymore ideas out of fear of being told their ideas suck. It would be more accurate to say that you have another idea rather than a better one. You actually don’t know if your idea is better or worse. In the initial brainstorming phase, there should be no judgement placed on a any particular idea.
  3. “You know what would make that idea better?” A variation of the “I have a better idea” statement. You’re still saying that the original idea isn’t good enough. In the end you’re just offering a variation of the idea, which actually calls out your own lack of originality, not theirs. You could just say, “To add to that idea, what if we also…”
  4. “I don’t see how that idea could work.” You’re basically knocking down an idea before it had time to fully form. In the initial brainstorming phase, you don’t have all the pieces yet, so it makes no sense to make any judgement calls on any ideas at that point. There could be a way to make the idea work later.
  5. “I doubt that idea would get approved.” Exactly, you don’t know. So why bother making such a statement? You don’t even know if the idea being presented will be the final idea, or what the idea will look like if it does become the final idea. And then you have to actually present and pitch the idea in a way so that it does get approved.
  6. “I don’t understand.” A variation would be “That doesn’t make sense”. Whether or not you understand an idea that someone proposed has nothing to do with that idea. The only statement you’re really making is that you don’t understand the idea. It doesn’t move the discussion forward. During the initial brainstorming phase, it is not important that ideas be fully formed. The main goal is to get out as many ideas a possible. The meeting can move to the next phase whether you understand it or not. You could just try asking, “Could you elaborate more on your idea?” But you might have to accept that some ideas are just over your head, and may not even require your understanding in order to move forward.
  7. “Are we all in agreement?” A slight variation would be “I can’t stand behind this idea.” Most ideas do not require unamimous votes to move forward. Sometime an idea just needs to move forward even if not all stakeholders agree. A majority vote, sometimes is all that is needed. In some cases, a leader will hold a brainstorming session just to hear everyone’s thoughts, even though an executive decision has already been made. The purpose of such a meeting is not to get an agreement, but rather to just hear feedback on a decision that’s already moving forward. In which case, your job is to make the idea workable.

Regardless of the intentions are, these 7 key phrases can stop people from presenting new ideas, and deter people from participating in future brainstorming sessions. It’s important to nip these kinds of statement in the bud as soon as you hear them by simply saying, “We’ll have to time to filter our ideas later, let’s just stick to generating ideas for now.” The best strategy, however, is prevention. Simply tell everyone the ground rules from the beginning, that if they should only focus on ideas they like rather than criticizing ideas they do not.

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