The biggest mistake in brainstorming: forgetting to evaluate ideas properly

In the average brainstorm, evaluation is an overlooked component. Most people assume that creative thinking is the only thing they need for a productive session. They believe that once original ideas have been generated, the hardest part is over. Reasonable as this may sound, it’s not correct. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite is true…

In most brainstorm sessions the evaluation phase is handled poorly. Near the end, a common situation almost always unfolds. Participants go for quick wins and choose the ideas that can be implemented rather easily. This approach is understandable, yet insufficient. If you need truly original ideas, you have to work a little harder and turn the more creative and weird suggestions into feasible ideas.

In this article, I’ll explain how to evaluate ideas properly in 5 simple steps. If you follow these steps in the correct sequence you’ll definitely end up with some razor-sharp results.

Evaluate ideas properly in 5 simple steps

It’s best to take a step back directly after the brainstorm. You are about to enter a different phase and you need some time to adjust. Some people like to ‘sleep on it’ and prefer to evaluate the next day. Others go for a short coffee-break before they continue to evaluate the ideas. Both options are fine as long as you introduce the participants to the transition. People have to be aware that they have to use a different set of skills. While ‘critical thinking’ is not allowed in the creative phase, it’s necessary during evaluation.

This 5-step model can be used with the entire group, with a small selected team or individually.

The goal of this first step is to make the overall ‘thinking directions’ visible. When you have a lot of ideas to choose from, it’s very handy to have an overview. It’s much easier to make choices if you’re able to see the bigger picture.

Pick one idea and place it on a wall. Label the idea’s approach on a post-it note and place it above the idea.
For example, the idea might be “We welcome people with a live band”, a label that would fit this idea could be “Music” or “Reception committee”.

Don’t overthink the title of your label. Work fast. The labels are only representing themes and are just a quick way to cluster ideas. Obviously, a label is very subjective and personal. Nevertheless, it doesn’t really matter what kind of themes you use. The only thing that’s important is that the title itself is clear to anyone and that it’s broad enough to contain multiple ideas.

Pick another idea and see if it fits the existing theme. If it matches, place the idea next to the other one. If it does not match, create a new theme and put the idea with it on a new spot on the wall. Repeat this process until you’ve handled all the ideas.

Create as many themes as you like, but make sure that all the themes are different. Each of them has to represent another type of approach to tackle your challenge.

Every direction is valuable, yet you can’t work on every approach at the same time. You have to choose which one you want to start with.

Choose the direction that fits your objective best and that’s most likely to solve your challenge. Continue the evaluation process with the ideas that are within your chosen theme.

In every brainstorm, a variety of ideas can be found. You don’t want to compare apples and oranges, so it’s wise to first categorise the ideas. At HatRabbits we make a distinction between 3 types of ideas; Starting Points, Concepts and Concrete Ideas.

Starting Points
These are the unreasonable ideas. They are illegal, unethical, or simply impossible because they are challenging the laws of physics. Be that as it may, the principles behind these ideas are often very refreshing.

These are ‘vague’ ideas that can be interpreted in several ways.

Concrete Ideas
The ideas that are clear to anyone and that can be executed right away. These ideas are extremely specific in what they mean.


If you aren’t sure in what category an idea belongs, you can always use the following checklist:

Is the idea impossible?
a). Yes – It’s a Starting Point.
b). No – see the next question.

Is the idea vague?
a). Yes – It’s a Concept.
b). No – It’s a Concrete Idea

Now that you’ve selected a theme and categorised the ideas, you’re ready to make a shortlist. One way to do it is by numbering the ideas. Let participants note their top 3 anonymously, for every category. This way there is no interference or influence of any kind. If everybody is ready, compare lists and select the top 3. One idea from each category.

Ideas seldom appear in a perfect form. They often need to be kneaded. To do this you need concrete ideas. So your selected Concept and Starting Point first have to be transformed into Concrete Ideas.

Starting Point
This impossible idea is often based on an interesting direction or an insight. Ask yourself; “What’s the principle behind this Starting Point?” and “In what ways can this be achieved?” Think about it for a few minutes. Remember, we are looking for feasible ideas. Select one idea.

This vague suggestion is often very useful as a rich source for multiple ideas. Ask yourself: “What could be executions of this concept? Give yourself a few minutes to think about it and select the most promising idea.

Next, you look at your Concrete Ideas individually. Approach the idea from every angle. What are the benefits? What are possible risks? How can we solve these risks? How can we improve its values? What are we missing to make it an instant success? What actions do we need to take?

Obviously, in this article, I’ve only described the evaluation phase in a nutshell. If you want to know more about productive brainstorming or about creative thinking in general, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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