How embarrassing stories make your team more creative

We all sometimes experience something so awkward it makes us cringe. A situation so embarrassing, we’d love to forget all about it. Cherish these humiliating events. Research shows it’s precisely these mortifying incidents that are the key to more creative brainstorm sessions. Embarrassing stories might make your team more creative.

The importance of quantity

As you might know, one of the most important things to strive for during a brainstorm session is quantity. Always generate as many ideas as possible. The more ideas the group comes up with, the bigger your chances of stumbling upon a brilliant solution. Therefore, it’s of the utmost importance to encourage participants to share each and every idea they think of.

Unfortunately, sharing ideas is uncomfortable. People are often afraid of saying the wrong thing and making a fool of themselves. This is problematic because when people censor themselves, they might refrain from sharing a ‘wild’ thought that might’ve otherwise led to a brilliant new insight. It’s often the crazy, silly ideas that trigger someone else and lead to marvellous innovations.


Icebreakers can be particularly useful in breaking down participants’ reservations. However, you should choose your icebreaker carefully. Sometimes a facilitator starts the session by asking participants about past successes. What are they most proud of? I must confess, I have asked these types of questions in the past as well. It seems like such a good idea. You start the brainstorm session cheerfully and on a positive note. There is a considerable risk in doing this, though. If you invite people to share success stories, you tempt them to start bragging. After this exercise, participants might be even more inclined to refrain from sharing ideas in fear of looking foolish! After all, they’ve just heard how incredibly talented and successful the others in the room are…

Avoid this trap and focus on another type of ice breaker: start by asking participants about their most embarrassing story.

Embrace embarrassment

Research indicates that participants will generate more creative ideas after they’ve shared an embarrassing anecdote. While it isn’t clear why this is, the researchers from the Kellogg School of Management hypothesise that sharing embarrassing stories reduces the fear of future embarrassment. After sharing a humiliating anecdote, you won’t be nearly as reserved to share a ‘crazy’ idea during the brainstorm session.

Sharing embarrassing stories will be a bit uncomfortable at first, but once someone starts, others will quickly follow. If no one is brave enough to start, take your responsibility as the facilitator and kick off the exercise by sharing your own cringey story.

More engagement

Starting with some humiliating confessions will not only make your team more creative but will also lead to more engaged participants. People will gladly listen to a colleague who is sharing some embarrassing tale. The other brainstorm participants will hang on your every word if you’re telling a juicy story at the expense of yourself. An embarrassing story is seldomly boring.

Some advice

Starting your brainstorm session with this simple exercise will make your team more creative, but it’s up to you to guide this process. Here are some pieces of advice:

  • To benefit from this simple exercise, make sure to use it at the very start of the session. Ask participants to share their most embarrassing moment of the past six months, before you start generating ideas. Don’t forget to explain that this strange exercise has nothing to do with the topic of the brainstorm session.
  • Make sure you have enough time. The exercise described in this article takes some time. It’s, therefore, less suited for using in large groups or brief sessions.
  • Be supportive. Listen attentively to the embarrassing stories and react to them without judgement or mockery.
  • Make sure the brainstorm session is a safe space. It should be agreed upon that none of the other participants’ stories will be shared outside of the group.
  • Smile! It should be fun to participate and there is no better icebreaker than laughter.


Would you like to know more about ways to make your team more creative?

HatRabbits develops creative solutions to societal challenges and offers training courses on the topics of creative thinking and innovation. One of the topics we teach is ‘effective online brainstorming’. In this online workshop, participants learn how to get the most out of their online brainstorm sessions. 

Interested? Send an email to, I’ll gladly answer any questions.

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Bad Idea Brainstorm5 type denkers om rekening mee te houden in je brainstormprogramma - organising a brainstorming session