Blog for the Strategic Innovation MBA Course at Vanderbilt University
If group members approach a meeting as if it's a waste of time to even have the meeting, it will inevitably affect the product of any brainstorming efforts. As soon as one person suggests that the team should "just pick an answer so we can get out of here," other team members begin to feel like any attempt at brainstorming means they are wasting everyone's time. To overcome this, team members should dedicate a period of time to brainstorming at the beginning of meetings, so that other members don't feel as though they are wasting time by suggesting new ideas.
Negativity. If ideas are constantly being shot down, people are going to be less likely to volunteer new ideas, which really limits group. Even if ideas are "off the wall" they may lead to other innovative ideas, so the more discussion the better.
I agree with Katie. Negativity is detrimental to group brainstorming. If even one member impedes upon the creative process, it affects the morale of the group and diminishes the possibility for great ideas. Often, this individual needs to be removed from the initial stages of the process in order to allow for positive, judgment-free brainstorming upfront.
I agree with Katie too. I think in the brain storm phase, group member should be free to brain storm without any judgement from other members. Group can gather and group the ideas later.
Focusing on a constraint too heavily, instead of recognizing the constraint for what it is and working around it. Specifically, I've seen this around the constraints of money and corporate budgets / finances. Instead of seeing a 'limited budget' as a constraint that can be overcome, team members sometimes can't get past the constraint, focusing too much on the 'impossibilities' of doing things without money.
Negativity, getting off track, and lack of participation from group members to name a few. I think it just boils down to focus. If all the group members are focused and present for the brainstorming it's much easier.
Often if the group allows a member to be overly critical of the ideas being generated by others while brainstorming then it quickly causes people within the group to become guarded and perhaps even fearful of providing further ideas to the group. Having an idea shot down right away deflates people and prevents them from rolling forward with more ideas.
Trying to divide the workload too early. Often times people walk into a group meeting with the expectation of breaking up the project into pieces that individuals will work on before any ideas about the individual pieces are discussed. This effectively kills brainstorming by focusing the group members on their individual assignments.
It is hard to disagree with the negativity responses listed, but I also think that having someone too high ranking involved can be a detriment. The job I had before Owen involved a lot of brainstorm sessions and whenever our president sat in on them, the creativity suffered. I think people attempted to say what they thought he wanted to hear as opposed to just letting things flow.
Two behaviors I observed killing the brainstorm: first,people going too far away from the main topic. Though it called brainstorm, we still need to keep in mind that the resource and time are limited. Sometime the brainstorm meeting costs half of a day or more, without any feasible idea. If this keep going, people will take brainstorm as relax time. Second observation: people expecting too much from the brainstorm. The purpose should focus on idea instead of implementation. I saw some people (especially managers) always want to get a whole set of resolution from brainstorming meetings. They keep asking why and how in the meeting, making people nervous or angry.
Inconsistency in group norms being communicated that are the ideal vs. the typical behavior of the person involved. For example, the boss who says that they want people to come up with a lot of ideas, but then their history has been to punish people for slowing things down with too many ideas.
One of the biggest constraints that I've faced this year vs. last year is the determination of the team. As we work through our second year of Business School, our goals have changed from working hard to achieve high grads to a much stronger focus on finding a job. Many group members now approach brainstorming sessions with the goal of making the meeting short and efficient rather than coming up with the best ideas. Without the drive or desire, great ideas are not generated and the brainstorming sessions are not as successful as they could be.
Killing ideas is the easy part. I think that is the default for most people for many of the reasons people have already mentioned; to little effort, in the name of efficiency, other priorities, etc. I couldn’t help but think about the ridiculous meetings we saw in the short video in class today. While they were obviously an example of what not to do, the exercise of just sitting with a group and throwing out ideas at least would get some creativity flowing. I’ve asked for ideas in some group meetings and could faintly hear crickets chipping somewhere in the library. I’m as guilty as everyone one else of taking the easy route on occasion, but maybe with a little structure and less judgment it can be a rare exception.
I've been in groups where we addressed the need for a no criticism zone and that the group should hold criticism until a later stage. At this point there is sometimes a sarcastic remark signaling the individual who takes the most pleasure in criticizing others. This is a quick way to get everyone nervous for the onslaught of criticism to come.
One of the behaviors I've seen that is detrimental to group brainstorming is passive agressiveness. When one team member begins to have a sarcastic or condescending tone, no matter how subtle it may be, it quickly impacts the group dynamics because team members start to put up their guard. In order to combat this, it is important to call the individual out on this behavior (hopefully in a light-heartened manner!) as quickly as possible so that the team does not get substantially derailed.
The desire to constantly make your voice known or chime in with your opinion. Some people believe that the only way they contribute is by dominating the conversation with their voice, which saps morale and turns the attitude of the other participants negative towards that individual.
I’ll echo what everyone else has said. The main behaviors that I have observed that kill brainstorming are lack of preparation, lack of commitment, and lack of respect. I’ve been in meetings where brainstorming didn’t happen because the whole meeting was spent re-describing the problem, since no one had prepared for the meeting. I’ve been in meetings where brainstorming didn’t happen because no one wanted to be there. They just wanted to get it done quickly and so the group chose the first answer that sounded reasonable. Finally, similar to what others said, I’ve been in meetings where people start criticizing before someone has even finished describing their idea. The bad part is that I can think of times when I’ve been guilty of all of these things. I guess this illustrates why rules and processes are needed to keep every on track and committed.
A general lack of commitment to the group/task at hand has been the worst behavior I've seen. If people are totally checked out and don't even want to try then it is hard to get somewhere. One of my favorite quotes is "you can't steer a parked car." Once people get moving it is easier to guide/steer the conversation.
Not paying attention to the brainstorming session because of the use of electronic devices such as Blackberry, laptop, i-phone, etc. Sometimes people are more interested in other activities or are in monkey mind mode, having as a consequence a lack of idea generation that deteriorates the flow of potential solutions.
A simple gesture or facial expression can completely kill innovation. I think the first critique that is allowed to pass in any meeting sets the stage for what can be criticized. For example, if your boss opens a meeting and immediately scolds an idea that you have, you will probably not throw out any more ideas for the remainder of the meeting. I have seen people go silent in long meetings because they were criticized early in the meeting, not because they ran out of ideas.
I’ve seen preconceived solutions having a negative impact on brainstorming in groups and I think I’ve been a culprit of this myself. After having worked on hospital flow and communication for a couple of years, I started reacting to the similarities between hospitals rather than focusing on the variation that could lead to a new solution. When constrained by time, resources, and expectations of what the process “should” look like, it is easy to fall into what you’ve done before without brainstorming. It kills the creative mood when someone says “don’t worry, I’ve done this before. We should do exactly this to achieve positive outcomes and save ourselves time.” It’s such a tempting proposal (especially in school projects) but will likely not produce the best outcomes for the particular problem at hand. One way I like to challenge this type of behavior is to include someone who is unfamiliar with the subject into the brainstorming session. This way they can ask the “obvious” questions and the person who has “done this project before” is challenged to explain and consider appropriateness of the solution for the problem at hand.
I believe the number one thing that kills brainstorming efforts are individuals who are overly critical of ideas being generated. In order for the brainstorming effort to move smoothly, individuals must feel that they are in a safe zone where all ideas will be accepted initially prior to there being a review by the group to eliminate poor ideas. Optimal brainstorming sessions likely include all manner of ideas and only eliminate or criticize ideas after the brainstorming has ended and the convergence stage has begun.
Not setting a goal or a main purpose of what it needed from the brainstorms. A group could work on brainstorms for a long time if there is not some management that set ground rules and objectives. The brainstorming efforts will be worthless with out a goal.
I found out that I will not be as much creative in the brainstorm process if there is a dominate person in the group.
I used to run an event marketing agency and we held brainstorms quite often. However, I began to notice that we got in to the habit of being creative the same way over and over...meaning, we always sat in the same room and assumed the same roles. For the most part, we deferred to our creative director (I mean, it was her job to be the creative one) which I actually think stifled the creativity of the group. I later hired a sales associate who liked to participate in the creative process and we actually ended up implementing some of his ideas. In hind-sight, I realized it is good to assume different roles and have many different perspectives...Even the creative director can get in a creative rut!
Having somebody too authoritarian that tries to lead the brainstorming trough a certain path. Sometimes people realizes that brainstorming is just for "the good ideas" that matches the way of the leader.
I have seen innovation and creativity killed by people that attempt to dominate the entire conversation. If no other personalities in the group try to offset the dominant personality, the meeting will turn into one persons ideas being what the group comes up with and most likley not that innovative.
For me, groups have always been killed by people that are in bad moods for whatever reason that may be. Most often for me it has been people coming into the meeting thinking that there was no purpose for the meeting, people not leaving baggage at the door (I think people need to leave all preconceived notions and scar tissue on similar projects needs to be left out), and people letting their personal issues get in the way of the meeting. One sour person can bring down a room full of people that are excited about the meeting.
Criticism is a large factor to kill brainstorming. Although some brainstorming is too diverging, it is still worth of time to explore different areas. In additional to that, brainstorming could creates some linkage from bizarre and realistic ideas to some realistic solutions. Too much criticism at the early stage of brainstorming is detrimental. It definitely hinders the free flow of thoughts.
A time crunch is what I have witnessed that kills innovation in groups. For example, someone at the beginning of the meeting will say that I can only stay for 20 minutes and a few others will echo the same after the meeting had originally been set up for an hour. This puts pressure on the group to make decisions quickly and discourages brainstorming for fear of inconveniencing those who only have a short amount of time to dedicate to the project.
Two things I've seen that kills brainstorming time. One is when one of the members comes up with a bad idea (either dumb or out of place), the others make that idea as the meeting new topic, laughing about it, bringing it up frequently, etc. When that happens, no matter how funny it was, not only the brainstorming momentum is gone, but also the others are stopping the person to speak up future ideas. And number two, which is very frequently, when one of the members is a talker, and start screaming out ideas without letting others to participate. Kind of like trying to make people feel that he or she is so smart. When that happens, others normally don't feel motivated to contribute to the brainstorming session.
Without the ying and yang of positive and negative or just general consistency in communication (as BK mentioned earlier) it's hard to make progress as a team. You need the negative reactions, but you also need the people willing to use that criticism to push ahead. I feel like I've seen teams get beat down because someone is overly harsh or because of that lack of consistent messaging from leadership.
Group members who critique every single idea before we even collected as many as we could. Often they seemed to do it just for the sake of critiquing. They either didn't come up with alternatives or they just wanted to push their own idea. Also, if the whole group seems to rely on the group leader or the leader of the current meeting when it comes to idea generation, it is very tough to get the whole group involved in the discussion and to get everyone feel responsible for coming up with some good ideas. The worst is when people come to such a brainstorming meeting without being prepared at all and constantly asking the other group members what exactly we are discussing, what the case was about etc.
The biggest idea killer at my last company (small) was from our CTO. He not only killed ideas seemingly randomly (ask one day he'd say flat no, ask another maybe 2 days later, get mysterious approval!)..but he also held key information from us (IT team) such that he was really the only one who could propose big ideas of any value. I think withholding strategic information is an unheralded inhibitor in the world of brainstorming.
Structure is the most important thing and groups that don't have some form of it fail pretty quickly or horrifically. Without defined goals, metrics for success or a even conversation "agenda", you simply just sit and spin.
A sense of urgency is what kills the brainstorming phase of most of my groups. In B-school, where there are multiple concurrent assignments on which people may be working, the ability to sit around and think about things that may ultimately not be useful is a difficult proposition. There is a constant need to move forward, to be efficient, and brainstorming, although possibly increasing output, definitely increases input; therefore, straining efficiency.
One other killer is that my group just wants to jump straight to the solution and do not allocate enough time for the analyzing and brainstorming phases. By skipping the analyzing and brainstorming phases, we limited ourselves to a bunch of normal/regular solution instead of finding a great one.
I have been in quite a few situations where hierarchy within the group has killed brainstorming efforts. If members feel compelled to follow or conform to their superiors’ opinions and are concerned about their reputation or impression, they will not share ideas as freely. The absence of a flat structure hinders innovation and creativity.
The biggest behaviors I've experienced that kill group brainstorming behaviors usually surround one of two things. On many occasions, a dominant player in a group (when paired with negativity) can destroy the process and the product before they're allowed to develop and produce a creative or interesting array of possibilities. In the opposite vein, I have also experienced situations in which people reach remarkable agreement on an uninteresting, plain idea and end the brainstorming process before they reach anything groundbreaking.
I've worked in a few groups in the army where brainstorming was a key proponent of what we did--patrolling our sector at night in Iraq. We had sole ownership of the area, so not only did we have a lot of responsibility, but it let us play with a number of different approaches with little risk of affecting any other units. In both groups I did this with, it was the oldest, most experienced guy who would marginalize our brainstorming efforts. In one case I think the guy was just tired, wanted out, and wanted as little to do as possible. I basically just granted his wish, and stopped requiring his presence at brainstorming sessions. He was more than okay with this, and the men were also okay, as he was a bit of a grouch.In the other case the guy was just a know-it-all. Any idea or knowledge that he didn't have was actually already his--we just didn't know it yet. "I know," was his catch phrase."When I was three years old, I fell off my bike and got this scar.""Oh I knew that. I know."It got old pretty quick, especially since he'd been around for awhile and "knew" the best way to do things. Again I took a passive aggressive move and just started assigning him things like taking in the vehicles for maintenance--which he liked better anyway--whenever it was time to brainstorm with the team. I think him cutting everybody off was his way of saying that he didn't enjoy brainstorming at all, but he was happy to follow the plan whenever we came up with something, so long as it was sound.It's funny that in the movies you see officers in the military having these in-your-face confrontations, when in reality those guys don't much done. So I guess my lesson learned is: if you have a problem child in your group, just tell him to go for donuts.
Group members who are not willing to give 100% in meetings usually end up distracting other group members and make the brainstorming process arduous. A "my way or the highway" attitude brought on by the authoritative leader of the group also immediately breaks down brainstorming efficiency. No members of a group want to deal with this type of person. An agenda (especially in a business setting) is usually very helpful as it keeps group members on a focused path and does not allow members to completely detract from the items that need to be addressed.
I agree to what all have written. In short I think that the following are brainstormers killers:- negative attitude towards the project- disrespect of other's ideas- monopolizing brainstorming session.
Some positive attitudes to gurantee a good brain storming session are:- have spent some time brainstorming individualy- attend sessions with an open mind- schedule enough time to brainstorm
One thing I've noticed that derails group brainstorming is a focus on "getting the job done". This results in pre-mature conclusions which do not yield the best ideas.
This summer a group of Directors got together at Sprint to brainstorm some new HR initiatives - but because they rarely had a chance to get together they spent the bulk of the meeting catching up and making small talk rather than generating new ideas. So I think I would either allow some time for that outside the meeting or make sure that brainstorming session takes place after another meeting.Also having a lawyer present didn't help much at all.
Acting in favorism of some one in the group is also a constraint for group members in delivering their ideas.
I recently had a meeting in Healthcare Innovation where a group members tried to kill all my innovation ideas by saying that some other company was attempting to do something similar. The constant negative feedback really blocked my thinking process and made innovation more difficult. I would have never been as in tuned with her commentary if I were not exposed to this course. As she was a member of this class also, I called her out on this activity by calling her an innovation kill her.
In my experiences dominant personalities and overly critical individuals create terrible environments for brainstorming. It is vital for people to be able to speak freely without fear of verbal scorn.
It seems that in most brainstorming sessions that I've been a part of, there has been too much emphasis placed on coming up with a solution. This inhibits people from suggesting ideas that are outside of the mainstream. It also tends to lead to picking an idea that will just work instead of picking an idea that is innovative.
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When people get too caught up in the feasibility at the beginning of the process, it smothers the problem as well as the solution. For that reason, it usually helps to brainstorm different problems (or symptoms of a root problem) first, then filter it down to a working list before trying to identify possible solutions.
An important one is when a member (or members) of the group are distracted during the meetings. Texting, typing in the computer, watching videos while the group tries to drive the meeting forward, etc. kills the flow of the meeting. Ground rules at the beginning of meeting could avoid this type of issues
I think sometimes is difficult to eliminate the hierarchy, usually ideas tend to flow in the direction the most senior person wants to drive them eliminating chances of coming up with new ideas. No one wants to say something that his/her boss thinks is dumb
From my experience, having a more senior person on the team, dominate the meeting and "think" he or she is doing a good job by leading the team can adversely affect the people in the group because they might not feel comfortable sharing ideas openly. In these situations, it helps to do brainstorming before the actual meeting.