Why Most Brainstorms End With Boring Ideas

Beware the lollipop of mediocrity;
lick it once and you’ll suck forever.”
― Brian Wilson

At the start of nearly every training in creative thinking we organise, something interesting happens. During the first creative exercise, we often hear people say; “Yes, this is it. I’ve found the idea we’re looking for!”

When we reply that there is always a better idea, most people get stuck. They get caught up in their own brilliant thought and get inhibited. They find it impossible to break out of their tunnel vision and to come up with alternative ideas. It’s like their minds are finished thinking and are taking some time off.

There is a reason this happens. People often assume that developing a creative idea is like solving a puzzle. Of course it’s true that creativity is about finding pieces that fit together. However, there is never just one single right answer. There are several ways to reach any goal. In fact; the more ideas you generate, the better. The more ideas you come up with, the bigger the chances of you finding a brilliant solution.

This is why it’s problematic to tell your brain that it should be looking for one creative idea. The moment you find an idea you’re satisfied with, your brain will stop looking. This is deadly for every creative session. Fortunately, there is a simple way of preventing this; an idea quota.

The idea quota

That’s right. Challenging yourself and your team to come up with a minimum amount of ideas is the best way to break out of your own thinking patterns. It will force you to detach yourself from your favourite idea.

Simply set yourself a timer (for let’s say 3 minutes) and force yourself to generate as many ideas as possible.

If you are holding a brainstorm, communicate an idea quota to the group; “Okay guys, I want at least 10 ideas from each duo, within the next 5 minutes.”, “I want 50 new names by 11.00 a.m.”, “At the end of this brainstorm I expect at least 500 ideas. And at least 50 of those should be truly original. (The ones that make your neighbour laugh and your boss frown.)”

Tell people what you are expecting of them. This will get them excited to achieve that goal and it will give them creative confidence. In the end, you are communicating to them that you have faith in their ability to come up with that many ideas.

Of course, you shouldn’t blow it out of proportions. If you exaggerate too much, the unrealistic expectations will stifle the flow of ideas. Just nudge the participants a little to find more ideas. (At HatRabbits we aim to generate between 100 and 200 ideas an hour.)

The same little trick can be applied to your individual creative thinking sessions. For me, these funny number challenges always seem to work. They tend to get me in an idea producing mood. I personally set an idea quota for nearly everything.

Just give yourself a target and a deadline. No matter what your challenge is. Whether you’re looking for a new name, want to develop a new range of products or are searching for new ideas to improve your service.  An idea quota will definitely help you get more and better results.

Don’t worry about the quality of the ideas, just let them flow freely. Do not judge the ideas (yet). Just make sure that you reach your goal. No matter how simple, small, ridiculous, stupid or impossible the ideas are. Crappy ideas often show the pathway to brilliant ones.


Most importantly, don’t let your brain be lazy. If you truly care about original ideas and creative solutions, give yourself the task to find and explore every possible idea out there. Only then will you find the truly brilliant ideas.

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