Warning Signs of Brainstorm Disaster

Not every brainstorm will rain big ideas. Here are three early warning signs and tips to preempt potential disaster:

Sign: Ignored Snacks
I believe unexpected treats feeds workplace creativity and sets table for co-creation. When brainstormers refuse my snacks, I notice idea sharing is less generous and collaborative. I think it has less to do with low-blood sugar and more with a disinterested participant not wanting to feel obligated to contribute. No snacking results in no guilt in checking-out or checking email. Tip: Avoid snack refusal by using bottled water as an assigned seating card, replacing its label with a personalized “HELLO my name is,” sticker. Who’s going to pass up a customized bottle of water?

Sign: RBFs (Resting Bitch Faces)
More than two RBFs in a session is no coincidence – more likely a sign of creative skepticism or “this-better-not-waste-my-time” mindset.
Tip: Idea impatience must be met with quick reassurance of productivity. Scrap planned creative warm-up and ask group to quickly name Top Ten most obvious solutions to your challenge. Insist on ten – even if it means ideas like,“Do nothing.” Explain that ideas on these lists will be strictly off-limits to today’s discussion. (And mean it!)

Senior person sends message she’s running late, and to start without her. Late arrivals guarantee disruption of creative momentum – 10x when it’s someone whose opinion matters.
Tip: Be bold and tell her you’ll use the delay as opportunity to build her team’s creative confidence – then give a specific time for her to join the group. This allows you to plan for break in the idea flow. What executive says no to gifted time?

So what do you think – am I over-thinking? Have you noticed other brainstorm disaster warning signs? How do you turn-around a bad brainstorm?