Brainstorming Meetings Don’t Work

Something that I’ve had to come to grips with in the past few years is that at least in my experience, brainstorming meetings don’t work. At least not in the way that I thought they should.

I’ve been a part of quite a few trainings on leading brainstorming meetings, from people who were Disney Imagineers to others who have led large creative teams. I’ve learned the things to do, like the “yes, and…” technique, but I’ve never felt satisfied at the end of them. I think, mostly, because I expected some big, brilliant idea to come out of them. That we would watch something we never thought of before emerge right before our eyes because we followed the brainstorming rules. And that’s never happened…at least for me.

Instead, I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. The brainstorming meeting becomes a catalyst for ideas to begin to percolate. And it becomes the place to bring those ideas back together and refine them. In my experience, most ideas are thought of by someone alone – maybe something in the brainstorming sparked it, and maybe the brainstorming helped to make it better, but that idea rarely has it’s genesis in the group of people who are using the “yes, and…” technique.

I was reminded of this as we’ve worked on our Christmas Services over the past month  (I know…it’s not even Halloween yet…but it takes a while to put these things together). We didn’t have any brilliant ideas that emerged the first time we got together, but some ideas got out there and we got started. The next time there seemed to be a bit more direction and thought, and now we’re at the refining stage. I’m surprised every year at the great ideas that are generated and get executed – especially since most of us leave the first meeting saying, “we’ve got nothing this year”

It’s easy to leave after the first meeting and feel like we’ve got nothing. But maybe that’s the problem with the brainstorming meeting – our expectations are wrong. Have those meetings, not because something magical happens in them, but because of what can happen after them. Allow for the ideas to percolate outside of there, and don’t be afraid of shutting them down because you don’t have anything…that might be the best thing for you there.