Brainstorming is a waste of time, unless you keep the following things in mind.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when your team has to generate ideas and do some problem-solving?

Brainstorming – the oldest trick in the book.

You sit down with your coworkers, your boss or university buddies in a conference room and for the next 30 minutes you’re expected to blur out your most creative ideas yet. You only need to follow two basic rules:

  • It’s a matter of quantity,  so the more ideas you give, the better
  • You shouldn’t be disrespectful of other people’s ideas and suggestions

It’s simple, it should be working, but it’s not. How often do you find yourself in a brainstorming meeting that’s anything but productive?

While a lot of people believe that brainstorming is the way to get fresh ideas, recent studies prove that the concept is not working. The reason? Plain old psychology:

It’s hard to overcome the fear of judgement

Brainstorming meetings most commonly include managers or team leaders. Sharing our not-so-great ideas might give the wrong impression to the higher-ups.

In a group setting, ideas tend to converge

Once an idea is presented on the table, studies show that it affects the memory of everyone in the group. This may lead the entire meeting in a single direction, which might not always be the best one.

We tend to be risk-averse by nature

Research shows that we generally prefer practical ideas to innovative solutions. Why? Because we tend to be risk averse by nature and as a result, we are more likely to choose familiar and practically proven concepts to those, which contain a bit more risk.

So what are optimal ways to generate ideas?

Approach #1: Break down the creative process

Creativity cannot be scheduled in a 30 minuted meeting, it’s a process that needs its time. In one of his first models of the creative process back in 1926, creative theorist Graham Wallas breaks the creative process into 5 basic stages:

#1 Do some individual preparations

Take a minute to do some alone preparations. Focus your mind on the problem and define its dimensions. Do some research and save anything that you think might be helpful at a later point in time.

#2 Take your mind off the problem

Now that you have done your research, allow your research to sync in your unconscious mind.

#3 Write down your ideas

Intimation is the third stage Wallas defines in his 5-stage creative process. Once you get some ideas, no matter how small or insignifficant they are, note them down and save for later.

#4 Once you’re aware of the ideas that might work, share them with the team

This is the process when your creative idea moves from a draft to an offer. Filter out the ideas you wrote down and share the ones you think might work with your team members. Share your document with a Download link or invite your team to a Shared folder. That way your team will be able to preview your suggestions instantly and start working on them.

#5 Verify and develop

The last stage comes when you and your team are on the same page. Now that your idea is verified by your members, meet up, start expanding and executing.

Approach #2: Do a Brainwriting session

Brainwriting takes brainstorming a level further. While you still get to meet with your manager and the team, in a brainwriting session, verbal interaction is excluded. Each participant thinks and records ideas individually. Here are the rules:

Meet with the team and invite everyone in a Shared Folder. Ask each team member to create a document within this folder and write down 3 ideas for 5 minutes. After these 5 minutes pass, swap your worksheets with the team member that’s sitting to your right and add another three new ideas. If your team consists of 6 people, which is the optimal amount for this exercise, in 30 minutes you’ll have 108 ideas generated in 30 minutes.

From there on, try and filter out the ideas and discuss the ones that you find the most appropriate.