The 6 problems with brainstorming and how to overcome them

Problems with brainstorming image

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Brainstorming has long been favored as the go-to strategy for businesses looking for new ideas for products, campaigns or solutions to problems. However, as the way we work and manage people changes, the effectiveness of the brainstorming process has increasingly come under scrutiny.

The 6 problems with brainstorming

The six problems with brainstorming we hear about the most are the negative effects of groupthink, difficulties when working remotely, peer pressure, personality differences, focusing on the problems, and disengaged participants.

So let’s dive in and take a look at each of the issues, and how we can overcome them.

Negative effects of groupthink influence brainstorming

The Harvard Business Review explains groupthink as “when you bring a group together to generate ideas, they tend to think alike, converging on a common solution”. Obviously, the ideal brainstorming session should produce as many ideas as possible initially. Its purpose is not to find one solution, rather a multitude of potential ideas that can be explored further. However, groupthink is a common issue, especially noticeable when you have one or two more dominant voices who really sell their idea to the group.

What’s the fix?

Groupthink can easily be overcome with one simple change: Letting individuals work on a problem alone. You could do this by using a brainstorming strategy such as Brainwriting which asks team members to write down ideas, rather than say them aloud. Or you could simply ask everyone to come to the meeting with a few pre-prepared ideas to share with the group.

Difficulties when working remotely

In the age of Covid-19, the old approach of gathering around a whiteboard armed with stacks of Post-It notes is no longer possible. While some managers may fear this is the end of brainstorming, it actually opens up new approaches that are just as, if not more effective.

What’s the fix?

Fortunately, we have plenty of tools that enable us to brainstorm in a remote environment effectively. Conceptboard’s unlimited whiteboard space allows teams to collaborate in real-time using sticky notes, pens, highlighters and shapes to share their ideas. Plus, with 15 different brainstorming style templates purpose-built for online brainstorming, you don’t have to stick to the old approach. It’s time to look forward and try new things.

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is the influence of others to interact and think a certain way. You may not think this is something that comes into play during a brainstorming session, but unfortunately, it’s very common. People may feel peer pressured to agree with certain ideas that have come from people in positions above them for fear of retribution. Or, they may not feel comfortable sharing their own ideas that may go against the grain.

What’s the fix?

The Crazy Eights technique is a great way to quickly generate a wide range of diverse ideas from the whole team. The concept is simple: give each team member eight minutes to sketch out eight ideas on a Crazy Eights template, completely in isolation from everyone else. The frenzy that follows can produce some pretty wild ideas. That way, no one needs to feel any pressure or embarrassment around their ideas.

crazy 8's template with example

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Personality differences

If your team is a mix of introverts and extroverts, you’ll really notice the gap between the two during brainstorming. Where extroverts will have no problem sharing their wildest ideas in front of a group, the same can’t be said for shy introverts. So if you really want your brainstorming session to be inclusive and ensure every voice is heard, you’ll need to set up some parameters.

What’s the fix?

This one can be a tricky one, but the first step to fixing it is to be aware of it. Try to prepare for your brainstorming by considering who you will invite, and their skills and personalities. You may want to share the problem beforehand to give some people time to prepare. During the session, you could give everyone a few minutes to come up with their own ideas before presenting them to the group. Or you could use the timer to give everyone equal speaking time. Alternatively, using a brainstorming template may provide enough structure to ensure everyone gets the chance to participate.

Disengaged participants

There’s nothing more energy-sucking than sitting in a meeting that’s going nowhere. So if you notice participants are losing focus and energy, it’s not going to be a very productive meeting. While there may be other things going on, chances are the biggest problem is that your team is not invested in the outcome.

What’s the fix?

If you want to ensure a productive brainstorming session, you need to start by getting buy-in from participants. This starts with fully explaining the problem and the reason why it’s important to find a solution. Without this context, it’s hard to get excited.

Many people believe that the key to solving problems is by asking the right questions in the first place. The clearer the problem is, the more efficient team members will be in coming up with ideas to solve it. So, you may want to start the session by completing a Problem Statement.

problem statement template

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Focusing on the problems

If your team is overwhelmed or bogged down in a project, they may not have the ability to see through the problems. They may feel exhausted by the weight of the task ahead, thus approaching the brainstorming session with a lacklustre approach. So, what if we told you there’s a way to take advantage of that negativity. Instead of shutting down the problems, you can use them as the jumping off point for ideation.

What’s the fix?

Reverse brainstorming employs our ability to see problems more easily than solutions. It’s a clever brainstorming approach that leans into our natural tendency to criticize and see flaws in a plan. So by starting with the problems, the team can then move onto making a plan for ongoing success. Give it a try and see how it this creative approach can help you solve complex problems that feel too big.

Overcome problems with brainstorming on Conceptboard

As you can see, brainstorming still plays an important role in business. But as the working landscape shifts, we need to be willing to adapt our approaches to ensure they’re still effective.

Conceptboard is the ultimate solution for real-time collaboration within remote teams. See how your team can benefit and start your 30 day free trial today.

Read about our 10 tips for successful virtual collaboration in 2024 on our blog.

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Your thoughts on

The 6 problems with brainstorming and how to overcome them

3 Comments. Leave new

  • Douglas Egyir
    18 May 2022 23:03

    Very strong and perfect points

  • Allen Hess
    5 July 2023 20:08

    Some interesting thoughts. However, I did not see the word facilitator mentioned in the text. This is very important to a brainstorming approach to ensure the team remains focused, there is no attribution, application of inclusion principles, and utilize systems engineering techniques (e.g. PICK Charts, Fishbone Analysis, SMART technique, etc.) to arrive at viable problem statements and subsequent potential solutions. It has been my experience that brainstorming with a team that has been trained in brainstorming techniques, total quality management (or quality management systems), and a clear understanding regarding “what’s in it for US” results in highly usable solutions. One point that is mentioned in the article is a clear problem statement. We ae taught at a very early age to clearly state and understand the problem. Problem statement, the scope and intended solution use frequently are the root cause for failure.

    • Thank you Allen, for adding these very important points. I will add it to the article and can only agree with you about focusing too much on the problem itself! That’s what people get hung up on far too often and this is also what the moderator should always try to prevent.


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