2: How to overcome group-related problems with brainstorming
There are many problems related to traditional brainstorming which
can be solved just by introducing Advanced Brainstorming techniques.
But there are also difficulties you may experience which need other
Here is a summary of things to look for when experiencing the following
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If people aren't losing their inhibitions then it means that the environment
is too threatening to them. They believe that their ideas will be analyzed immediately
or that they will be judged personally on the quality of the ideas. Solutions:
Explain the rules again
Remind people that their ideas are also to be used as a stimulus for others
Stop people from criticizing. Remember, criticism doesn't just come verbally;
it can also come from facial expressions and other body language
Have an amusing warm-up exercise before starting properly
Introduce people before the session
If some people are dominating the session, encourage others to join in
Get people to work in smaller groups then join in together later
Remove a cynical senior manager
Encourage a senior manager to participate by getting them to give radical
When you keep getting the same answers then you need to change the starting
point and stick to it. Often someone has given a superb answer and no one can
stop thinking about that idea. Alternatively your participants could be exhausted.
Use the creative thinking techniques
Change to a different technique
Make sure that people include the stimulus in their answer and do not
deviate in order to repeat a previous solution
Acknowledge a previous answer as being very good and that you are looking
for something else too
Emphasize a different aspect of the problem to work on
Have a break and start off from a different angle
Split the problem into parts and brainstorm each part at a time
Get everyone to stand up and move places
Train people in creativity so that they believe they are creative - and
they will be!
Bring in new people from other departments and areas
The session doesn't flow naturally and everyone feels
This can be caused by a number of things such as an unhappy group, a domineering
participant, a lack of planning and direction, a cynical and judgmental manager,
a disbelief in brainstorming or bad experiences in the past. Whatever the reasons,
you need to think about it and do something positive. Solutions:
Have an interesting or amusing warm-up exercise
Highlight the rules and include some training as part of the session
Rearrange the room if its layout feels confrontational in any way
Have some light music in the background which fills in any quiet or awkward
Encourage people to put forward silly answers as a stimulus only
Demonstrate how silly ideas can be transformed into sensible ones
Read out some jokes
Discuss the process and try to find out the cause of the problem
Find out if people believe that they can succeed in being creative
Plan your sessions in advance and tell people what to expect in advance
Do not invite dominating participants if they are judgmental (do not exclude
them purely on the basis of being dominating or you will lose some good
ideas - just try to quiet them down by saying that the others seem to be
a bit shy, if they have any ideas can they write them down and hand them
Change the format of the session each time to make it more varied
People sometimes just get stuck on only using current solutions and need to
be kick-started on to new thought patterns. Solutions:
Introduce and use the creative thinking techniques
Use a different technique
Train people on how creative thinking works so that they believe they
can be creative
Give each person a separate computer with brainstorming software and let
them mix their ideas and stimuli
Use the Challenge Facts technique to break out of the current way of thinking
Encourage more radical starting points and don't let people deviate back
to current solutions. It's too easy to make a connection between a new stimulus
and a current solution without forcing new connections
Take a short break and tell everyone the starting point ready for when
they come back
With Traditional Brainstorming this is true; with Advanced Brainstorming it
is not true at all. Using Creative Thinking techniques combined with brainstorming
software you will never be stuck for a new idea when you work by yourself. In
fact, many people find that they are more productive when they use brainstorming
software by themselves than when they brainstorm in a group. This is because
you are under no social pressures and have as much time as you want to explore
your new thoughts in your head. You use original stimuli from other sources
and so you don't need a stimulus from someone else in the group.
It can be quite embarrassing for the participants when it all goes quiet in
the room. In fact it's expected that there will be silent periods as people
think about the ideas and stimuli. Solutions:
Tell everyone that periods of silence are OK and that it is perfectly
Breaking the silence should not be done by you just because no one says
anything for a moment or two. If you are the facilitator then you can feel
under pressure to say something first. Wait that extra bit longer, or quietly
ask some questions or ask for ideas in a patient way.
Smile openly to participants and make small nodding gestures for non-verbal
Have some light music in the background which fills in the quiet awkward
Tell people how great it is that they have all survived their first period
of silence without accident.
Some sessions can regularly be dominated by one or more people who shout out
their ideas and block the ideas of others. You must make the distinction between
people who are stimulating thought and those that are blocking it. Some people
are loud but helpful, and some are not helpful. Try to use the people constructively
if possible. Solutions:
Encourage participation from other members of the group. Invite ideas
from other people
Encourage people to work on their own using notepads and then gather the
ideas afterwards. Write the ideas up on the flipcharts and then let them
work on their own again
Do not invite dominating participants if they are judgmental
Quiet them down by saying that the others seem to be a bit shy, if they
have any ideas can they write them down and hand them in later
Have a quiet word with the people afterwards
Invite managers to encourage their staff to participate and to inform
them that there will be no follow-ups from suggesting seemingly stupid ideas
Move round people in turn asking for ideas. Make it a game where each
person builds on the idea of the person before
Often you will get some people who don't contribute in a session even if you
know that they are intelligent and that they have many good ideas within them.
You will need to give them space to contribute because they obviously don't
believe they are able to contribute.
Ask them how the session could be improved
Ask them if there was anything preventing them from giving suggestions.
If they are shy about making criticisms of other people it is best to suggest
answers yourself and observe their reactions
Ask them to run a session if they feel up to it
Get them to write all of their answers on a notepad and hand it in afterwards.
Acknowledge that it is often hard to find time to say all of their ideas,
and that you value them at any time - which, of course, you do.
If the facilitator is always having to restart the process or is constantly
having to force participants to put ideas forward then you will need to make
the process less facilitator-oriented. The facilitator must stop being "the
leader" and must hand over control to the participants. Alternatively,
the participants may be unsure of what they are trying to do and may need more
training and an explanation of the rules.
Encourage participants to restart the process themselves. Ask them to
tell you when they want a new stimulus
Try a change in seating arrangement making it less focused on the facilitator
Try to make any authoritative figures show outward dedication to the process
and make sure that they do not make any judgments at all. Speak to them
Give everyone access to their own source of stimuli
Make sure that you are not accidentally criticizing the ideas as they
Sometimes you will find that however much fun and however many ideas were established,
no valid ideas were produced. You should try to work out if it was the process
that failed or whether the solution you already have in place is the optimal
one. Alternatively, you feel you could have got all the ideas yourself. It is
often the case that a lack of suitable solutions means that other factors have
badly influenced the process or that it was not run effectively. Ask yourself:
Should you have called a brainstorming session at all?
Was the subject suitable for brainstorming? eg. should you have done some
Should you have had more information to give people at the beginning?
Was the probortunity explained well in the first place?
Did the group start answering a totally different probortunity without
being prompted to return to the correct one?
Did the same ideas keep coming up? (use the advanced techniques)
Was the environment encouraging?
Whatever results you get you should try to analyze the brainstorming session
and learn from it. How can you improve it next time? Who else should you bring
along next time? Do you need to retrain or talk to some of the participants?
Now we'll have a look at what problems the individual person can experience,
and at how they can be solved to give more effective participation, enjoyment
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