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The 5 Worst Things You Can Do in an Ideation Session

Innovation is hard. Coming up with new ideas is hard. Ideation sessions are hard too – but only if you let them be. What if we could free you from the chains of running ideation sessions where ideas are few and far between and participants get distracted from their only role in the session – coming up with ideas – any ideas – and nothing else!

There, we’ve given you the clue in the introduction. Ideation sessions should focus on only ONE thing – generating lots and lots of ideas.

In this blog, we look at the 5 common mistakes that derail the best-intentioned ideation sessions and how you can make sure yours stay on track and on point – and, most importantly, generate oodles of ideas. You just need to trust the process. Check out other articles on how to set up your ideation sessions for success.

1. Not prepping your participants beforehand

Asking people to come up with ideas off the cuff is a bit of an ask. They need time to warm up and get the cogs churning. So, to kick your session off with a burst of energy and ideas, send out a memo beforehand to brief participants on the project, establish clear goals for the session so everyone is aligned and instruct them to come to the meeting with a list of ideas written down and ready to contribute . Make sure everyone understands the resources that will be to hand and that everyone that needs to be involved can make the meeting. Send your memo out in sufficient time to allow for any questions before the session and to give people time to prepare. The last thing you want is to come up against some bad surprises one you get together in the room.

Also make it clear in your memo that ALL ideas are good ideas. Nothing is off the table during the idea session, and nothing will be discarded or labelled as “stupid”. Create a comfortable atmosphere where nobody is afraid to contribute for fear of being ridiculed. You’ll see why this is so important in the next point (apart from the fact that you don’t want to have your staff feel uncomfortable!).

2. Self-eliminating ideas during the ideation session

Sometimes the best ideas never see the light of day because the creator is too embarrassed to voice them for fear of ridicule or through lack of confidence. Even if the ideas generated aren’t suitable for the project you are focussing on doesn’t mean they won’t be the ideal solution for another project.

So, make it clear in your ideation session that when brainstorming ideas:

  • all ideas get recorded and

  • nothing is to be judged, censored or illuminated just because it doesn’t seem relevant to the topic right now.

It’s nobody’s job in the session to do anything but contribute ideas – that’s Rule no.1. Rule no. 2 – see Rule no. 1.

The key takeaway here is that everyone should understand that there is no stupid idea. Even a “bad” idea can spark something really great, or parts of one idea can be merged with another. Lay it all out on the table, so to speak, so that nothing is off the table. Remember, when you start censoring ideas, you are possibly suppressing that great idea that’s going to change everything. What an opportunity lost!

3. Merging idea creation and idea application

We keep talking about focusing on ONE thing – generating ideas. That’s because, if you don’t get this right, you are not going to get the volume of ideas churning that will eventually spark something truly brilliant. There’s no time in your ideation session to pounce on a seemingly good idea and start trying to apply it to your focus problem. Avoid that temptation at all costs. It’s hard, we know. It’s so easy to get excited about an idea that surfaces. But if you stop there, that one great idea that could have made all the difference might never get surfaced!

In every ideation session, have a moderator manage this to stop any discussions about idea application that might start, and get people back to work thinking about other ideas. If you’re thinking of possibilities, expanding your options, you won’t be able to “instantly” switch to thinking of the feasibility implications. So, make sure there is dedicated time to “creative” thinking and dedicated time to “analytical” thinking. The investigation into the application of ideas has its place in a later session, but NOT this one.

4: Doing the same thing and expecting different results

If you run an ideation session with the same team every month, how can you expect different and better ideas when nothing has changed?

  • Do not let the team feel like it is the same challenge every time. Ensure that there is “NEW INFORMATION” to stimulate the team. When we say “stimulate the team” we mean that it should cause some kind of reaction: excitement at the possibilities it opens;

  • shock at the consequences,

  • intrigue about how we might do this, etc

It must not, cannot, leave people indifferent!!!

5: Making your team feel like ideation is “just part of the job”

Instil a culture in your organisation so that everyone is encouraged to come up with new ideas, to own it! No one’s position is too “small” for their ideas not to matter. Ensure that ideas, even if not implemented, are celebrated. Never let ideation or attending ideation sessions be something the team dreads. Make it something they look forward to every time.

Keep in mind that problem solving involves being in a “creative state of mind” and that fun will go a long way in “feeding” the energy required to do that, ensuring you have the highest chances of succeeding in your innovation challenge! When people are relaxed, the part of the brain involved in being creative switches into gear. So, remember to have fun and let the ideas roll in!


Avoid these 5 common mistakes and you should see an instant spike in your idea bank. Keep your ideation sessions on track by only focussing on generating ideas that you can put in your idea bank for consideration at length at another time. By not limiting or censoring what comes out of these meetings, you are sure to generate some gems that don’t sparkle during the session but dazzle when placed in a different context.

Doing just ONE thing at the time you are supposed to will generate the rewards you are looking for – IF you are willing to trust the process.


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