Three types of people who destroy a brainstorming session
(and how to stop them from doing that)

Does the success of a brainstorming session really depend on the host alone?

A brainstorming session is more jazz than orchestra. You don't need a maestro directing every topic, every word. It's supposed to be a free flow of ideas that lead to innovative solutions to a complex problem. Yet many productivity blogs focus on the organizer as the sole conductor of the brainstorming exercise.

Brainstorming sessions might become far more productive if each of the participants realize when they start playing a 'brainstorm villain'. Inadvertently any one of us could assume one of these avatars and spoil the effectiveness of the session. If we can catch ourselves early, there's a good chance those talented neurons come up with something actually useful.

Here are some 'villain' avatars we become when brainstorming:

1. The Snake / The "I'll speak later" kind:
Usually highly knowledgeable, slightly morose, already aware of the personalities of others participating. This person will have a laid back body language. He will wait for others to spew out their 'stupid' ideas before he 'strikes' with the one golden solution. Except that he won't. Quite at the start, this person's thoughts quietly drift away from the flow of the ideas. When he does raise the curtains on his grand idea, it will seem completely disconnected with the conversation.

Measured against Participation, Aggression, Innovation and Knowledge, this is how Mr. 'Snake' turns out.

I'll speak later

Solution: If you realize you are this avatar, try to open up a bit. How? Reaffirm your view about an idea being discussed. You can keep it simple. "That's a good idea". "That might work". Just staying a bit engaged might open your idea box some more and help people see you as less aggressive and more involved.

2. The Pitbull / The "Won't let go" kind:
Aggressive. Focused. Deaf. This person does not have enough background or experience to come up with industry transforming ideas. The last post it on the wall from her was perhaps a decent idea. But people want to move on and explore other options as well. Not her. She wants to draw everyone back to her idea, even if it takes brute force to do that. She might be one of the reasons good participants start losing faith in the brainstorming process.

Here's what she looks like on the 2 x 2s.

I'll speak later

Solution: Take it out on the notepad. Spend your aggression on pen and paper. List out the negatives in the ideas being thrown on the wall. Cross them out and write how your solution is better. Writing down may help your mind, speech and the meeting to match pace.

(Side note: I don't mean to demean pitbulls. Love the breed.)

3. The Monkey / The "I'm so funny" kind:
Interesting, interested, alive. This person is immersed in the conversation and understands the personality types participating. Maybe too well. He will shoot out one liners that are actually funny. He manages to crack up the whole team and dispell gloom associated with three hour meetings. All good until he goes overboard. The audience is responding and he doesn't know when to stop. The brainstorming session becomes his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at stand-up comedy. It goes downhill from there and stops only when the time's out and people start talking about pizza or coffee.

Here's Mr. Monkey on 2 x 2.

I'll speak later

Solution: This avatar is not very far from being a good brainstormer. All that he needs to change is the nature of his contribution. From jokes to ideas. From one liners to views on ideas being discussed. And that's it. The one liners are actually good as long as they are few and far between. Keeps the party alive.

Have you seen these avatars yourself? Have you seen any other types? Or maybe personality traits that make for good brainstorming?

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Published: 20 Feb 2015.


All views expressed here are my own and not endorsed by my employer or any other company. Cases presented do not necessarily relate to my employer, peers or team. - Vikrant