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Bag Boring Brainstorming Meetings

September 3, 2010 By Editor

The plus side of virtual get-togethers
by Laura Bergells  

Bag Boring Meetings

Ah, the corporate brainstorming meeting fantasy. An enthusiastic moderator, a blank white board, a group of experts eager to share their ideas — what could be better for generating a host of creative problem solving ideas?

Ah, the brainstorming reality. It turns out that solitude is a better approach to creative thinking. According to a study team at Indiana University, groups come up with far fewer and much less creative problem-solving approaches. Individuals working alone have more ideas. 

Instinctively, you already knew this.  Brilliant creative artists seldom offer their best newly-formed ideas for group consideration or consensus. And you’ve witnessed the glazed looks of bored team members in the departmental brainstorm meeting. 

Consider the rule: there's no such thing as a bad idea. You’ve heard, “yeah, that sounds good” voiced at the mention of the most mediocre idea. The ever-positive brainstorming moderator reminds us, “There's no criticism at a brainstorm meeting. The point is to get as many ideas on the board as possible. There's no such thing as a bad idea, so let your ideas flow!” 

Of course, that’s a fantasy, too. We’ve all heard loads of bad ideas at brainstorming meetings. I am often so intrigued by the mere idea of no bad ideas, that I make a point of voicing the worst ideas possible. When people start to look uncomfortable, I have to remind the moderator to write my lousy idea on the board. 

Often, I am ignored. But at least I am highly internally amused — before I get fired. 

The plus side of brainstorming meetings. Of course, some will argue that brainstorming isn’t all about creativity. Socialization and team-building are important, so the brainstorm session fosters that feel-good group interaction that people crave. But without an atmosphere of honest conversation and true accomplishment, the feel-goodness factor is a brainstorm fantasy, too. 

A better approach to brainstorming. Instead of group brainstorm sessions, why not try virtual brainstorming? With virtual brainstorming, you can generate more creative ideas — and still offer your team the socialization they crave. Here's how v-brainstorming works:  

  1. Use email. The perky coordinator asks the brainstorm team to email him or her at least 10 ideas by a certain date. The rules: no offline collaboration with others. Team members are to come up with their own ideas, and email them by the (short) deadline.
  2. Create a presentation. The coordinator collates emailed responses. He or she creates a presentation to share at a brainstorm results meeting. Categories can include “Five Most Popular Suggestions,” “Four Most Unusual,” “Most Expensive,” “Least Effort” — you get the idea. The coordinator creates a number of categories that stimulate thought, conversation — and maybe even a little fun.
  3. Share results. The coordinator leads the results meeting. Transformed from a chirping drone who mindlessly copies down sparse ideas, the moderator is now able to effectively lead an interesting conversation about the ideas the team generated independently. 

Conversations shift from, “Yeah, that sounds good” to:  

  • “Wow! Ten of us had the same idea — but the most popular idea is the worst!”
  • “Hmm. The ‘least effort’ idea is also the most expensive. That’s a problem.”
  • “Customers will love the wackiest idea. The CEO will hate it. We should explore it further.” 

Better ideas. Group interaction. Conversation. Criticism. Analysis. Of course, a v-brainstorm meeting is more work for the coordinator — but it’s better for everyone else. Why not try one the next time you need ideas + interaction? 

After all, the truth — and creativity — does not depend upon a consensus of opinion. 

Laura Bergells is very active in the worlds of Internet marketing and presentation. She built and marketed web sites in the mid 1990’s for automotive companies, including Detroit Diesel, Penske Motorsports and Diesel Technology. Bergells also served as an Internet marketing consultant in the pioneer days of Autotrader.com and eBay Motors. Since 1999, Laura Bergells has been a web content developer and community builder. An adjunct instructor at the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, Bergells teaches Creativity in Marketing and Social Media/Web Marketing. She has a BA in Telecommunications and Sociology from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Grand Valley State University. You can read her blog at http://maniactive.com/blog or follow @maniactive on Twitter.


  • Excellent piece with excellent ideas. A wrinkle you didn’t consider is the “pass to the right” technique — the moderator strips off identifying info from each suggestion, sends it to someone else, and asks them to edit it to make it more extreme, more customer centered, more economical, whatever criterion (just “better” can be too vague but sometimes works). Repeat process a couple more times; when all of the messages have been edited 3-4 x, put them all in one common file, sort the paragraphs by alphabetical or random order, and send them out to everyone for comments or discussion starter.

    Can easily be done concurrently with everything else you’re suggesting.

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