I found this article about the reasons why brainstorms fail the other day and it got me thinking. Parker Smith raises some very vaild points about this tool. When I trained to be a facilitator, brainstorming is about the first thing you learn and it’s probably the tool I have used the most over the years. People can get to grips with it easily, there’s no maths to do or consensus to reach so it’s pretty user friendly.

I’ve seen there are a number of pitfalls a brainstorm can fall into

  • I agree with Parker that not being clear what you are brainstorming about is a big mistake. If possible, I always agree the brainstorm title upfront with the group leader. Also, you may need to allow participants to ask questions to clarify the title, if necessary it may have to be refined.
  • Some people find it very hard not to get into discussion about suggestions made and this can quickly push things off track. Old grievances soon surface and the more junior or less confident members of the group will soon stop contributing if all suggestions get picked over.
  • A brainstorm needs to be seen as the first step in an improvement process, the hard work really starts once the ideas have crystallised. To see the ideas through to fruition takes determination, time and all your powers of influence and diplomacy. A facilitator needs to make sure that the group do not lose heart, make sure the progress made is documented and know and manage your stakeholders
  • It may be better to light a candle, than to complain about the dark – but being the holder of that candle can be a very lonely job.  Often ideas identified in a brainstorm will go against the culture of an organisation and then the task in front of you can be very daunting! A facilitator needs to hang onto their impartial view, help the group see the wider picture and get the group to approach the task gently rather than run headlong at it.
  • Organisational inertia can also be a strong factor preventing ideas being developed. The pressure of managing the day job can remove time to improve. Sometimes you need to take time out in order to develop better ways of doing things. Stop mopping up the overflowing water and fix the tap. Get senior approval for staff to devote time to improvement activities.

Since starting this post, I’ve also found this excellent article (http://bit.ly/7RRsbG) by the Paul Sloane, which echoes many of the comments above.

I will continue to use brainstorming, but it’s always good to think about our comfort blankets and what they really mean.

What do you think makes a good brainstorm or can cause one to fail?

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