burnt out employees status quo

Brainstorms are important and an easy way to get everybody together to collaborate, discuss, debate, and ultimately, innovate. But sometimes, you come out of them feeling as if you didn’t get the ideas that you needed, or that the same ideas were being rehashed, or that it was a complete waste of time. So, why do your brainstorms suck and how can you overcome that?


Reason #1: Brainstorm exercises lack intention

Most brainstorms aren’t really brainstorms. They’re arts and crafts sessions with icebreaker exercises. Interaction, fun exercises, and engagement are important in a brainstorm. However, if the activities you’re doing during your brainstorm sessions are just for fun, but don’t connect to the problems you’re trying to solve and aren’t relevant, nobody is going to participate. In these kinds of brainstorms that are just a bunch of fun exercises with no purpose, people tend to tune out and disengage, because while fun is great, they can’t see the point of the exercise. 

When you think about leading your next brainstorm, it’s not enough to think about how to make it engaging and interactive. You also need to think about how to create exercises that have a purpose. The exercises need to make people think, help them connect in new ways, and create new paths for ideas.

Be purposeful and intentional with your exercises. Ensure that you can correlate them directly to the task at hand, not just “for fun”. Putting thought into your exercises and brainstorm activities takes a little bit more effort, but it is absolutely worth it.

Reason #2: Brainstorms discuss people, not ideas

A huge challenge in brainstorming is that we accidentally end up discussing and debating people instead of ideas. In a brainstorming session, we often associate the ideas with the people who came up with them, and this makes the process too personal. It makes people feel like they personally are being discussed, rather than constructively debating the idea itself.

A very simple solution to this is, instead of having people say their ideas out loud, have them write their ideas on sticky notes and put them up on a wall. This way, the ideas are brought to the front and center of the discussion. The focus then shifts to the content, and the ideas, not the people.

In my experience, when we debate and discuss ideas, rather than the people who came up with them, it’s much easier to get to the right solutions, see the opportunities, and fill the gaps. Putting the spotlight on the ideas means we’re able to have real, honest discussions about the ideas, and not get derailed by discussing the people behind them. 

Reason #3: Brainstorms only cater to one type of person

Every team or organization is made up of different types of people, yet our brainstorms are often designed to cater to just one type of person or style of thinking. This means we’re not leveraging all the different strengths that everyone brings to the table. 

In order to capitalize on all the different types of innovators in the room, we have to build the agenda of the brainstorm in a way that speaks to different types of people. We might include reflection time, talking time, small group discussions, large group discussions and a variety of other exercises to tap into the different types of people.

The truth is, we have to design our brainstorms to be more dynamic. There’s a reason why we want diversity in background and thinking on our teams. But it’s more than just having them on our teams. We need to create brainstorms that leverage them and tap into their strengths by bringing in a variety of tools and resources that speak to each different type of innovator.

Bonus: Innovation doesn’t happen out of nowhere

The underlying reason why brainstorms really suck is because people are often expected to innovate out of nowhere. They’re expected to just keep their heads down and not even think about innovation in their day-to-day work, and then to produce creative and innovative ideas when they’re thrown together in a room at 3pm with scented markers and blank easel pads. That’s an unrealistic expectation, and a key reason why brainstorms suck.


If you want your brainstorms to succeed at the times when you do bring people together to collaborate, you have to allow people to innovate outside these sessions, while they’re actually doing the work. Allowing people to innovate and prioritizing innovation outside the brainstorm will help generate more innovation during the brainstorm. People will come prepared with fresh perspectives, ideas and challenges that they’d have been contemplating already.


Here’s the thing: brainstorms can be powerful, and we do need to bring people together, but we need to do it in a way that works. 


By using brainstorm activities that have an objective attached to them, debating ideas instead of people, building brainstorms that tap into the varied styles of thinking, and allowing people to innovate beyond just the time allocated for it, we can have more productive and fruitful brainstorms that help us innovate, and win.

Watch the video to learn why your brainstorms suck and how to make them rock