Brainstorming vs. Knowledge Seeking

Imagine a team sales meeting to brainstorm how to:

  • Better identify real prospects from non-buyers.
  • Quicker identify decision-makers.
  • Increase the price point of a product or service.

A brainstorming meeting like this will often consist of each person sharing their opinions around a vague structure hoping to stumble across some magical insight.

Unless anyone in the room is an expert at sales, identifying decision makers, or has a proven track record of increasing the price point, the meeting is simply a cluster of opinions from which to make a decision (and if someone is an expert, let them make the decision).

I’d use the same time instead to research the best way to achieve these goals. This means each person talks to experts they know, researches the topic online, reads a book on the topic and then presents their best ideas a week later.

You can then discuss the feasibility of each idea in the meeting and come to an informed decision really quickly.

You can save a lot of time and come to much better meetings if each person is properly informed.


  1. Todd Nilson says:

    I frequently find myself disenchanted with brainstorming sessions the way in which they are typically organized.

    Problems include:

    • Groupthink where everyone is influenced by everyone else
    • A big personality (or the boss) in the room steamrolls over everyone else’s ideas
    • A collection of ill-formed opinions vs. facts (as Rich states in his blog)
    • Descending into idea evaluation

    Also, I’m not convinced by the old saw that “all ideas are equally good.” They aren’t and it can be a waste of time if you’ve got the wrong group of people in the room doing the brainstorming, and even worse if the individuals who actually do know what they are talking about get shouted down by individuals who have no clue whatsoever.

    Not all collaboration is good collaboration and even fewer brainstorming sessions are any good for these reasons.

    There are ways around this. I rather like Rich’s idea about going away first and doing some research. Get knowledgeable. Talk to people who are experts. Read some books and blogs. Get dirty in the research. Come to the table with more than opinion.

    As for the other downfalls of brainstorming sessions. There are some approaches you can take to avoid groupthink. Google has an approach. In fact, Google thinks about better brainstorming a lot. I’m also rather fond of using a version of Lean Coffee for brainstorming, especially among groups whose members may not be familiar with each other.

    If you’ve gotta use brainstorming, what do you do or use to make it better?

  2. Gear Buzz says:

    I like to “riff” with my team members. We trade ideas and keep upping them as we riff back and forth in one to one and group voice meetings.

    I can steamroller a bit but usually just to drive a central path when there is no concensus.

    The team has a lot of good ideas but we can only execute one or two at a time.

    So we have “idea mountains” / lists of seemingly endless “one day we will do this” plans. It’s a job in itself to help manage disappointment that great ideas may have to wait as long a year to action.

    It’s a Time / Money / Developer hours / ROI thing.

    Frustrating most times

    But we have no shortage of great ideas

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