trick-or-treating-2010Scary creatures and evil spirits are fine on Halloween night, but they have no place in your brainstorming sessions, where they’re sure to terrorize everyone in the room and thwart any fresh, innovative thinking.

Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer, idea generation experts and co-authors of SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas, have some tips for exorcizing even the most disruptive brainstorming demons.

1. Dungeon Masters are running your brainstorms. “In an ideal world, the leader of a brainstorming group is inspiring, supportive, fair, and open-minded,” says Rigie. “They encourage participation by creating a safe, supportive environment for sharing new and different types of ideas and perspectives. Unfortunately not every leader is so skillful, or puts the best interests of his or her group first,” adds Harmeyer. “For every well-trained and masterful Yoda-like leader, there is a Darth Vader lurking in the conference room next door.”

Rigie and Harmeyer explain that such “dark overlords of ideation” come in many different guises, such as possessing dominating personalities that rule and control their groups instead of inspiring and guiding them.

“We once knew a Dungeon Master who would squash creativity in every brainstorming session,” says Rigie. “At the start of the meeting, he would assert, ‘You know how they say there’s no such thing as a bad idea? Well, that’s not true. There ARE bad ideas. Ideas so bad they should never be spoken out loud.’… Needless to say, few participants had the courage to utter even one risky, unconventional, and potentially innovative idea.”

2. The specter of negativity and judgment looms in air. That’s a dumb idea! We tried something like that before—it didn’t work! The boss will fire us for even suggesting a wild idea like that! Sound familiar? That’s the sound of fledgling ideas being massacred.

“Nothing will kill a group’s idea generation efforts faster than negativity and judgment creeping into the session,” says Rigie. “If participants’ contributions are repeatedly shot down, they will quickly feel self-conscious about sharing their thinking for fear of being criticized or viewed as foolish.”

The SmartStorming partners suggest establishing brainstorming rules such as, “Suspend all judgment,” “There’s no such thing as a bad idea,” “Go for quantity over quality,” “Shoot for wild, edgy ideas,” and “Nothing is impossible.” By having the group agree to such rules, you establish a safer, more open and supportive environment in which new and innovative ideas can emerge.

3. The session feels like a torture chamber. The reason many brainstorming sessions feel like a veritable “house of pain” is because they are poorly planned, loosely structured, have ill-defined goals, and include few if any fresh techniques to inspire new avenues of thinking. The agony can be compounded by untrained leaders who allow group discussions to meander aimlessly, or who fail to keep the group’s creative energy high.

“Without big-picture planning, a sound process, active, well-trained leadership, and idea-stimulating techniques, productive sessions are virtually impossible to achieve,” says Harmeyer. “Efforts are expended in vain, time drags on, and participants stagger out of the session feeling like the walking dead.”

4. Toxic personalities are invited. Who you invite to your brainstorm can dramatically impact the quality and productivity of the session. Here are a few of the potentially troublesome personality types Rigie and Harmeyer suggest you avoid inviting to your sessions:

* Attention vampires — They always want to stand out and be the center of attention. They’ll suck the life out of the entire group.

* Wet blankets — These pessimists see flaws in every idea voiced and dampen the enthusiasm level in every session they attend.

* Dictators — They love every idea…as long as it’s theirs. These totalitarians believe they are the only ones with good taste. Everyone else’s contributions need to conform to theirs or risk being executed.

* Obstructionists — To them, nothing is simple or easy. They overcomplicate conversations and procedures, and bring up extraneous facts or considerations that derail the flow of the group.

Ward off such evil influences! When considering whom to invite to your brainstorm, seek out individuals who possess a positive, can-do attitude and collaborative nature.

“SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas” (Dog Ear Publishing, 2013, ISBN: 978-1-4575166-3-4, $29.95, http://www.smartstorming.com) is available from all major online booksellers and at http://www.smartstorming.com/book.

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