Combat creative exhaustion with these brainstorming tips

by Pranav Ramesh
June 28, 2022

Brainstorming as an idea generation concept has been around since the early 1950s as modern marketing grew into its golden age in America. In fact, at an advertising agency called Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborn. Inc., executive Alex Osborn began to encourage his employees to “think up,” to allow for increased creative idea generation after the agency hit difficult financial times in the late 1930s.


Osborn would further develop the concept of “thinking up” and it would become the precursor to brainstorming, which really put Osborn on the map, not only in the advertising world, but across business sectors. Since its introduction, brainstorming has become a universal collaborative process for businesses across the globe.


Brainstorming can be a useful way for teams to develop new and unusual ideas, but approaches have been adapted over the years to suit modern work environments and hybrid models. Read on to explore ways to update and improve the way you brainstorm with your team. There’s still a lot to learn from an age-old technique.


Start by asking better questions


While brainstorming can be quite successful, it can be difficult to generate innovative ideas when your team is hitting a creative roadblock. One way to ensure that you’re not falling in the same old trap is to make sure you’re actually asking the right questions.


What is it that you need to accomplish? Are you looking for a new product to develop? Are you trying to find new ways to reach a target audience? Or maybe off-the-wall ideas to solve a difficult problem. Once you’ve determined what it is you want to brainstorm about, think up questions that encourage your team to look at a problem in a unique way or outside of the context in which you usually talk about that problem. This simple act can be a real game changer. Once your team is given “permission” to think in a non-linear manner, you might be surprised at the ideas they bring to the table.


Ironically, one way to make sure you’re asking the right questions is to brainstorm- you guessed it- more questions! Instead of asking your team to simply solve a problem, let them think of other questions that surround the same issue. Concept bursts allow teams to develop as many open-ended and descriptive questions as they can while avoiding groupthink that can often take over a brainstorming session.


Let’s get critical


Recent studies have pushed back against a long-held belief in regard to brainstorming: that criticism, and all criticism, is always bad for the process. Research has shown that there’s an increase in the number of ideas generated by a team if constructive criticism is allowed to occur naturally in the process. Ideas generated in this manner are also deemed to be more creative overall.


Be careful using this technique, however. The studies indicated that while criticism can be useful, it really only works when the team is working together cooperatively- not in a competitive setting. Be aware of the context your team is working in and the personalities at play- there’s a time and a place to use criticism within a brainstorming session.


Try a more structured approach


While many business leaders mistakenly think that brainstorming involves locking your brightest employees in a room until they produce “a promising idea,” providing some structure to the process can give your team the guidelines and boundaries they need to truly be successful at idea generation.


For example, there’s many factors that can explain why people won’t speak up in a brainstorming session. Groupthink, avoiding conflict and concerns about being judged are all valid reasons that might prohibit a team member from speaking their mind. Some others might be introverts or suffer from social anxiety which makes speaking up in a roomful of one’s peers incredibly challenging.


Luckily, leaders have a lot of workarounds when it comes to brainstorming in order to have more representation during the process. Some examples include:

· anonymous brainstorming,

· silent voting, and

· silent meetings.


Implementing these unique variations on brainstorming can better ensure that leaders are capturing their team’s most brilliant ideas while helping to provide a safe space so everyone can contribute. That’s where the most diverse creativity will come from.

Josh Linkner, founder and CEO of five tech companies and author of Big Little Breakthroughs, is an expert in the topic of fear and the negative role it plays in drawing out a team member’s creativity.


“Truthfully, fear and creativity cannot coexist. If there’s fear in the room or in the building, your creativity is going to suffer. The best thing that we can do for ourselves, and our teams is create a safe environment where all ideas are celebrated—the good, the bad, and the ugly—because sometimes it takes a bad idea to get to the good ones,” he told McKinsey & Company in a 2021 interview.


Remember, brainstorming sessions don’t have to be relegated to the often boring, stereotypical methods used for decades by business leaders. If your team is suffering from creativity burnout, and you can try alternatives to reawaken your team’s imagination. You might be surprised just how far the fresh ideas dreamed up in a modern brainstorming session can catapult your company.

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