Is Brainstorming a waste of time?


When was the last time you participated in a brainstorming session? Or when was the last time you called for a brainstorming session?

Did it work for you?

While most managers have either participated in or asked for a brainstorming session the results are disastrous. Eight out of 10 managers think that they got nothing worthwhile out of the sessions. The fact is that most brainstorming sessions don’t work and are a waste of time.What is wrong with brainstorming you might ask Frankly, nothing is wrong with it. The problem is the way people conduct brainstorming sessions.  Brainstorming sessions don’t work in the following situations.

When they are run by bosses:

When bosses run meetings, most participants play safe. Very often, they only express ideas which they believe will please the bosses. Or they keep quiet, not to come across as being too way out in front of the boss. The certainly don’t want to upset the boss.

The other reason is that most bosses are useless as facilitators. They believe that they can demand out-of-the-box ideas from the employees. And also get them anytime! .It normally does not work that way. Occasionally, if an out-of-the-box idea does come up, then the boss tends to kill it. Either because he did not think of it or because it is too uncomfortable. This happens in the meeting in front of everyone.

Therefore, the result of such meetings is cynicism. “God! Another one of those meetings!” is the reaction.

Brainstorming sessions are noncoalition cabinets:

How are participants selected to attend a brainstorming session? The worst thing you can do is to call every head of department. You think it is the politically right thing to do.

What tends to happen in such a meeting is what is called class participation. Everybody participates but no one contributes anything fresh or new, In addition everybody tries to peddle his or her favourite ideas. Such meetings end in onemanship and turf battles. Participants leave the meetings without adding or getting any value.

A brainstorm is not a college debate

The worst thing you can do in a brainstorming session is to get into a debate on why a certain idea is good or bad. Generating an idea and evaluating it?  immediately is like walking with your legs tied. You can never move forward.

When the debate becomes acrimonious, it vitiates the ambiance of the meeting People don’t feel safe anymore in such an environment.” They tend to keep  Quiet. They are just waiting for the meeting to be over so that they can run away f1om there.

While most managers have either participated in or asked for a brainstorming session, the results are disastrous. What is wrong with brainstorming you might ask. Frankly, nothing is wrong with it. The problem lies in the way people conduct brainstorming sessions.

Brainstorming and phones don’t go together

Constant phone calls and interruptions affect the quality of brainstorming. They spoil the rhythm of the meeting and therefore affect output. Cellular phones are the worst enemies, especially either call turns to be long.

Brainstorming without proper planning is destined to fail. People pay very little attention to detail in organizing brainstorming. The first task for anyone calling for such a meeting is to define the problem precisely. “Let us have some sales promotion ideas” is a very poor definition. Instead this: “Generate sales promotion ideas to get teenagers to try our product at least once.

The next issue is the place Stuffy office conference rooms are very depressing. Anything official makes brainstorming less effective. Brainstorms are beneficial when the atmosphere is cheerful, playful and relaxed.

No one worries about how we are going to run the session. Who will run the session? Will there be someone to break the ice? Who is responsible for the success of the session? Who is going to capture all the ideas? What happens if people get struck for ideas? Who will ensure that energy levels are high? These are critical for running productive brainstorming sessions.

Who defines if they are productive or not? How do they say that? At the end of the day, do they want a bag full of ideas or do they want one or two well thought- through solutions? Who will make sure this happens

A brainstorm is not staff meetings

There is no need to call the entire staff of the department. The fewer the participants the better the results. An ideal size would be anywhere between seven and 10. People With different backgrounds – age education, experience, specialization, interests and hobbies – make excellent participants.

The more varied the back ground the richer the results. Participants must be articulate too.

The best results come when you have taken the trouble to choose participants carefully. You need enthusiastic, cheerful optimists who have wide -ranging interests. Specialists are very useful! when you are evaluating the ideas. Children are great idea generators. They have uncluttered minds and don’t carry any baggage.

Best times for brainstorming

Generally, morning sessions for idea generation yield the best results. It is preferable to keep evaluation sessions in the afternoon as it allows a lot for participation and discussion. After-office evening sessions may not work if the settings are formal.  The best brainstorming sessions, however, are unofficial. They happen in. the canteen, in the lifts, in the lavatory and during travel. Smart managers keep their eyes and ears open for such ideas.

Blaming brainstorming for poor results is like blaming the recipe for poor food. Next when it doesn’t deliver results for you check out these points once again. You might find some interesting truths.


Credits: R.Sridhar

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