Brainstorming sessions have become standard fare for ministry teams that seek solutions to problems. The two key rules are to generate as many ideas as possible and don’t criticize the ideas. These concepts came from Alex Osborne’s book Your Creative Power published in 1948. Since then it’s been common practice to avoid criticizing the ideas in brainstorming sessions. The underlying assumption was that people won’t speak up if they fear criticism. There’s only problem with this kind of brainstorming is this: it simply doesn’t work. In this post I explain why it doesn’t and give 5 ways to make brainstorming more creative.
Multiple studies have shown that groups who use standard brainstorming rules generate less ideas than do individuals (Lehrer, 2012). In other words, when posed with the same problem, individuals consistently generate more possible solutions to a problem than do groups. When I learned this I was shocked because I’ve always applied these two basic rules in brainstorming sessions with my teams.
So based on the latest research, I’ve listed below 5 ways we stifle creativity and the antidote to each.
- Stiflling…Discourage dissent. Don’t allow anyone to debate or criticize an idea in a brainstorming session.
- Antidote: encourage friendly debate and healthy criticism. Set up rules beforehand, though, such as don’t personally attack people, clarify before criticizing, use phrases like I have a different view, etc.
- Stiflling…Make the group an all boys club.
- Antidote: include women because they, in general, have greater empathy skills and emotional intelligence and can offer unique perspectives.
- Stiflling…Only includes your BFF’s (best friends forever).
- Antidote: include in your brainstorming team both people with longstanding relationships and newbies. One study found that the creative teams behind the most successful Broadway musicals included people who had known each other a long time and newbies (Ellenberg, 2012).
- Stiflling…If you are the leader, telegraph your views at the beginning of your brainstorming session.
- Antidote: if you’re leading the session, be as neutral as possible or you may hinder some people from sharing a good idea because it may conflict with yours. And, most people don’t like to disagree with their leader.
- Stiflling…Make the brainstorming session a serious, linear, logical experience.
- Antidote: make the session fun, out of the box, and as rule free as possible. Encourage individual idea generation, counter intuitive ideas, and mind wandering. Mind wandering often produces some of our greatest insights (Christoff et al., 2009).
What have you discovered that encourages creativity in your team in brainstorming sessions?
Christoff, K., Gordon, A.M., Smallwood, J., Smith, R. & Schooler, J.W. (2009) Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), pp.8719-8724.
Ellenberg, J. (2012) Six Degrees of Innovation. Slate. Available from: [Accessed 9 May 2013].
Lehrer, J. (2012) Groupthink. The New Yorker. Available from: [Accessed 25 February 2013].