Alternatives to Brainstorming (And Why You Need Them)


Brainstorming was introduced in the 1950s as a way to generate out-of-the-box thinking, particularly in businesses such as advertising agencies. Since then, it has become a go-to strategy for teams to problem solve and innovate. But does it really work? Not always. 

4 Reasons Brainstorming Doesn’t Work

Brainstorming doesn’t work for everything. It also doesn’t work for everyone. While it’s true that brainstorming can lead to creative ideas, it also has drawbacks that cause some proactive leaders to look for alternatives to brainstorming. Here’s why: 

1. Neurodiversity. Not everyone thinks the same way, which means not everyone will participate in brainstorming the same way. As more and more companies embrace neurodiversity in the workplace, the less effective – and less inclusive – brainstorming will be. 

2. Groupthink. Depending on the group dynamics in your company, having many different people participate in the decision-making process can sometimes backfire and hinder creativity. 

3. Mediocrity. Some people might not want to give up their best ideas to share credit with the group, and others may be fine riding the coattails of more vocal group members. This leads to a less creative end result than if people had contributed ideas individually. 

4. Chaos. Brainstorming sessions can be difficult to manage and can go from productive to chaotic very quickly. That can lead some people to become frustrated, be less likely to participate, or shut down completely. 

4 Alternatives to Brainstorming

If brainstorming sessions haven’t produced the results you’re looking for, try these alternatives: 

1. Mind mapping. This is a more controlled version of brainstorming that still relies on ideas coming from many different people but presents them visually. It starts with the core issue in the center, and then maps out solutions from general ideas to more specific strategies. 

2. Teaming. Instead of having one large group of people, break your brainstorming session into smaller groups of just three or four people. Give the teams a time frame to come up with a certain number of ideas, and then have one team member present what the team thinks is their best idea for open discussion in the larger group. 

3. Reverse brainstorming. This strategy starts with known solutions to an issue and identifies why they won’t work. It’s like hiring a hacker to check your cyber-security. By testing the ways your ideas can fail, you’ll discover ones that are fail-proof. This strategy can be done in a large group or in teams. 

4. Brain writing. This takes the idea of brainstorming and puts it on paper. A team member starts with a blank sheet of paper and writes down a few ideas, then passes it to the next person who adds new ideas or comments on the first set of ideas. The paper is passed around until everyone gets a chance to add their thoughts. Depending on the size of your group, this can also be done in teams. 

Whether you decide to stick to brainstorming or try one of the above alternatives to brainstorming, there’s one common denominator that will help determine your success: you! Any meeting is only as effective as the person who’s leading it. 

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