Here’s the deal: most brainstorms are really bad. I want to advocate killing traditional sessions like this, because I believe they are a waste of time.

A brainstorm can have different goals, but I’m focussing on the type of brainstorm around a certain problem, where a group of people want to come up with the best possible idea. A session like this is often introduced with these two rules: all ideas are allowed, and secondly, quantity is the goal. After all ideas are collected, a process of selecting and refining starts.

There are a couple of reasons this type of brainstorming does not work:

  • Mostly, the extroverts take the stage and say all the things they want to say. This way of voicing ideas is not that accessible for people that are less comfortable with larger groups.
  • There will be always some levels of fear for judgement between the members of the brainstorm. Either because of different roles, or because of the next item: scary ideas.
  • Groups hate scary ideas. And to rise from good to great ideas, you need the scary ones.
  • Great ideas need time to be conceived. Your mind needs to think about the problem, in silence, with music, while you’re sleeping, et cetera. If you’re trying to come up with the best possible idea in a 60 minute meeting, you’re simply not going to get it.
  • Brainstorms are often requested by people that don’t want to do the actual work. Let’s say you get assigned the task to improve the engagement of a product, or you need to come up with the name of a new application. The easiest way to get the feeling of progress is to schedule a one hour appointment to gather ideas with a group.

One way to set yourself apart, is to train your brain to be able to come up with great ideas. Really deep thinking is something you can get better at, but it will take time.

If you’re stuck: don’t call for a meeting. Schedule time to do some real thinking and brainstorming — only not with others, but with yourself. Find out what works: go for a run, take a shower, listen to music or be in silence, whatever gets you going. You’ll be surprised how much quality work you can get done, without wasting the time of 6 other people.