Brainstorming fosters creativity and innovation. Whether done formally or informally, it is a critical step that helps us find the best solution to the problem at hand. While brainstorming can be highly beneficial, below are five traps that can steer you off track to achieving your goals. Many of these traps are subtle and often go unnoticed, but knowing what to look for can help you course correct to ensure you reach your goal.
1. Brainstorming before fully defining the problem.
You start solutioning without understanding the root cause of the problem resulting in wasted time and effort.
Fix: Ensure the problem is clearly defined and you identify the root cause before you move to brainstorming.
2. Combining identifying the problem with brainstorming.
You try to solution immediately after defining the problem. At any given moment, we generally employ one of two modes of thinking: focused or diffuse. These modes of thinking do not occur concurrently. Problem definition involves the focused mode of thinking. This plants the seed for your brain to make connections to come up with solutions unconsciously in diffuse mode. Brainstorming is a means of bringing diffuse thinking to your consciousness to identify possible solutions.
Fix: To obtain the full benefits of diffuse thinking mode, allow for some time between identifying the problem and brainstorming. Often, doing something not related to the problem can help, such as switching tasks, exercising, or sleeping on it.
3. Brainstorming too much.
You have multiple brainstorming sessions to address the same problem resulting in the same ideas over and over. These sessions may occur over months or years as the same problems keep arising but no action is taken.
Fix: Ensure your problem is prioritized properly so that the right resources are available to follow through. Assign project owners to move the project forward and provide accountability. If this is a persistent problem with no support to move it forward, then only resume when you have the resources to do so. Asking for solutions when you don’t have the means to fix the problem can damage morale and develop a lack of trust with your employees.
4. Brainstorming beyond the problem.
You have the capability and resources to go above and beyond to fix the problem that you find yourself saying “and we can also…”. But this often results in wasted time and effort, as well as the delay caused by developing a more complicated solution. Why build an army when a bullet will do?
Fix: Make sure the solution fits the problem. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Ask “Is this critical to solving the problem?”.
5. Brainstorming to procrastinate.
You have not made any progress in taking action, and so you go back to brainstorming to get a sense of accomplishment. This will sometimes happen in progress or review meetings which turn into brainstorming sessions because little or no progress has been made. There are some elements here that are similar to brainstorming too much noted above. The difference here is that there are resources available to get the job done, however, little or no action has been taken.
Fix: Ensure that progress meetings stay on track and that they address the key actions that came out of the brainstorming session. Address reasons why no action has been taken rather than resorting to further brainstorming.
When is it appropriate to have additional brainstorming sessions?
There are, of course, some circumstances in which it is appropriate to carry out further brainstorming. These are when:
- New information becomes available that can impact the outcome
- An unanticipated roadblock occurs
- There is a fundamental change in the goal or purpose
In the above cases, it is likely that the original solution no longer applies, and so a new solution is needed.