Why So Many Brainstorming Sessions Fail

Why So Many Brainstorming Sessions FailI finally figured out why so many brainstorming sessions fail. It’s the exact same reason why so many marriages fail. The couple shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place.

Many brainstorm sessions that are called never should have happened. And while some kind of meeting may have been appropriate for the invitees to attend, the form of a brainstorm session was the wrong form.

So, before you call your next brainstorming session, pause for a moment and ask yourself what the real purpose of your meeting is. If it’s not the generation and development of new ideas, your meeting is not a brainstorming session, but one of the following.


A chance for participants to update each other on projects, download knowledge, share research and other changes impacting their common project. No new ideas are really needed here — just the real-time sharing of information.


Some meetings need to be nothing more than talking head sessions. These kinds of meetings give people a chance to air out opinions, share questions, and listen to each other. There’s nothing wrong with these kinds of meetings — but they don’t necessarily require brainstorming for them to be effective.


Sometimes teams simply need to get together to get on the same page. While this may include the sharing of information, it may also be a time for people to connect, clarify their collective vision, and reinforce their commitments. While this may seem “soft,” it’s not. Unless your team is connected, it’s unlikely they will be effective. Getting your ducks in a row usually requires more discussion than brainstorming.


Sometimes it’s useful for team members to give and receive feedback to each other. This kind of meeting can be as simple as a few “report outs” and then some honorable sharing of feedback. Ideas may emerge in the process, but a feedback meeting is not a brainstorm session. Ideas are less important that the ability of participants to listen to each other and speak their truth.


Sometimes the only reason for a team to get together is to make decisions. Who’s doing what? Why? By when? If your team has no agreement or process in place about how it makes decisions, these kinds of meetings won’t go very well — unless, of course, it’s already been established that the “boss” or “team leader” is the one with the power to make decisions on behalf of the team.

Make sense?

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of “Awake at the Wheel”, as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

Mitch Ditkoff




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No Comments

  1. Sylvia Henderson on February 24, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    I like your meeting-types definitions.

    Another reason I find that brainstorming sessions fail is that the ground rules for “true brainstorming” are poorly understood. I find this quite a lot when I work with clients on creative problem-solving (as certified by Creative Problem-Solving Institute) who have been “soured” from previous poorly-run sessions.

  2. Mitch Ditkoff on February 25, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Sylvia: Yes, indeed! You are totally right. Check out my soon-to-be-published post on this blog IN DEFENSE OF BRAINSTORMING or check out my own blog, and click on the “Brainstorming” section of the archives. Lots of articles there on the topic.

  3. Mike Dalton on March 2, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Good points Mitch – your brainstorming quandry reminds me of the Alliance Framework proposed by Sagal and Slowinski in their OI classic “The Strongest Link”

    You have to have a clear objective for the meeting to start (as you have outlined with the different meeting types), have clear roles for the participants, as well as know what each participant is going to bring to the table.


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