That AHA moment! We’ve all experienced it at one time or another. Perhaps it occurred when you were working solo, or during a team interaction!  Does the lightbulb arrive immediately – probably not! I coach many professionals who assume that it will happen when they are fresh, rested, and have time to regroup.  According to research by Loran Nordgren, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, and Kellogg PhD alumnus Brian Lucas, now of Cornell University, creativity drops off with time. “People think their best ideas are coming fast and early,” Nordgren says. In fact, “you’re either not seeing any drop-off in quality, or your ideas get better.” By giving up too soon, we risk leaving our best ideas on the table.

Nordgren believes bringing attention to the problem can help people unlock new ways of thinking. “People don’t maximize their creative potential, and part of that is because of these beliefs,” he says.

The Power of Persistence

What does this mean for your next brainstorming meeting? For Nordgren, there’s one very simple takeaway. “If you’re struggling, keep going,” he says. This and his earlier research on creativity reveal that “our intuitions about how this process works are wrong, and that our best ideas are there. They just require more digging.” Should you resist the temptation to select an idea or come to a conclusion because a meeting is drawing to a close. Should you assume that the best ideas are yet to come?

What can you do? Follow these five tips to get your ideas flowing and brainstorm to your heart’s content:

  1. Don’t limit your ideas; think freely and be open to wild ideas
  2. Build more; ideas beget ideas; use “and” rather than “but
  3. Quantity matters; the number of ideas you can generate has no limits
  4. Brainstorm visually; use the whiteboard or flipchart to add post-its, writing, sketching, and lists
  5. Maintain your focus; remember your purpose in being here (to brainstorm)
Place many of those great ideas in the “parking lot” and return to them later. After all, that’s what brainstorming is all about!

Photo credit: Michael Meier