7 Phrases to Ban When Trying to Discover New Ideas

The best ideas in an organizational setting often come by getting a group together and searching for new ideas or ways of doing things. My mindset is you can usually come up with better solutions if you put the right people in a room and let them throw lots of ideas on the table – even seemingly bad ideas (at least at first).

The reality is change spurs momentum, so if you want to create some excitement around you, get a variety of people in a room and let the ideas flow freely. If you are in a stuck or stale position – and want to see new growth – one recommendation I’d give is to organize a session of ideation.

But, you’ve got to be intentional to be successful. You need enough people. (If you don’t have a large church staff, invite some lay people. And, inviting outside people is often a good idea even with large staffs.) You need the right people – people who will voice their own opinions, but will also be positive-minded, cooperative and supportive of other people’s thoughts.

It’s usually good to begin with some open ended questions or problems to solve in order to spur discussion. You need plenty of time, because ideas often come slowly. You need a relaxed environment – people need the freedom to get up and walk around the room, for example.

And, then you need to establish some rules up front. This is the part we sometimes fail to do and where the process gets off track.

Specifically, there are certain phrases, which cannot be heard in an effective meeting intended solely to generate ideas. They should be off limits. In fact, you might even give everyone the freedom to challenge when they hear one of these.

There are probably others, but let me share some which come to my mind.

7 phrases to eliminate when generating ideas:

  • We’ve never done it that way.
  • We can’t afford it.
  • So and so is not going to like it.
  • Let’s get serious – so only throw out ideas that make sense.
  • We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.
  • The problem with that is…(before the idea has a chance to even breathe)
  • That’s ridiculous – always translated you’re ridiculous.

Additionally, long sighs, shrugged shoulders, or any animation which displays a sense of disgust or lack of initial support should also be discouraged.

There should be plenty of time to critique ideas before they are implemented, but when looking for new ideas you want EVERY idea on the table. There are no bad ideas at this point – capture all of them. In fact, the one, which may seem the worst idea of all, may be the trigger for someone else’s spark of genius.

This is a great time to encourage randomness. I’ve even led us to play games prior to starting such a meeting.

New ideas are usually out there – they just need to be brought to the table. That’s the main benefit of this type process.

What ideas can you add for productive idea generation?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 27 Comments

  • Hey Ron! These are great. I was asked once to meet with some leaders of an organization to offer grass roots ideas to solve a problem they had no money to fix. I spent time online beforehand researching their issue and came with a list of ideas. But each of these phrases were used and we spent the whole time focusing in more detail on the problem. It wasn’t much fun, and I lost interest in helping. Next time would it be best (as an outsider) this approach rather then burning calories as an individual?

    Thanks for your ministry!

  • Ed Borowiec says:

    Hi Ron:
    I do brainstorming sessions in which I start with a guideline preamble Seven Deadly Sins of Brainstorming and How not to commit them (about ten minutes) Then we do a demonstration by brainstorming a real concern that needs fresh ideas. All seven sins and the solutions are listed on my blog at http://successrevisited.com/?p=359.

    You are very correct about the no no phrases, they deflate a session like popping a balloon and that's why setting the guidelines up front is so important.

  • This is really good. However this needs to be implemented from senior leadership, and that leadership needs to have the personal security to hear other people's ideas which may be completely contrary to that senior leaders ideas or even understanding. For example, if a senior Pastor has been doing neighbourhood post outs and you suggest switching to social media paid advertisements, it will then come down to the security or insecurity of the senior pastor as to whether that idea is shot down or considered. It is a two way street through because the person suggesting the idea needs to be respectful in how the idea is presented.
    Your tips and 'exclusion list of terms' for healthy discussion is excellent!
    Thank you!

  • bryankr says:

    Really good post! I have never heard of anyone saying that brainstorming was offensive, although as an introvert I wonder why it exists (just kidding!). I have heard a few of these terms in meetings. We never did it that way before, was always one of my "favorites".
    Twitter: bryankr

  • Caleb says:

    I think you're right about avoiding those phrases when trying to come up with new ideas. I do however think that brainstorming is a little overrated all together. I've been in a few brainstorming sessions and have never seen anything amazing produced by them. It seems that most sparks of creativity and ingenuity happen individually, often outside of the confines of a brainstorming session.

    • ronedmondson says:

      The problem then is not in he brainstorming but in the follow up. 
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

      • Caleb says:

        Yes, I suppose you're right there could be a problem with the follow up too, however, I've also read some research recently that seems to indicate that brainstorming sessions are a very ineffective way to come up with new ideas.

  • Ron, another very good post. I've spent thirty-five years in pastoral leadership and I've heard them all. I'm going to share this post. Thanks!

  • phyll says:

    Was always fun to do this with school kids. At first they would be timid then gradually a response; even if it was ridiculous we would stop and disect it to see if there was any part of it we could use and this would get the brains started. Sometimes it ended up in a giggle fest but worth the exercise. As time went on you could see their eyes light up along with ther brains really focusing on the assignment. I miss those times.

  • kmac4him says:

    Awesome post! I had never heard that "brainstorming" is offensive. You learn something new everyday!
    Here is an idea for brainstorming!
    A fun thing is to have an "out of the box" lunch. Your team comes together and there is a box lunch for them and taped to the box is a one line typed note (something you want them to brainstorm) During lunch they have to come up with something "out of the box" to say about the note taped to their box. Tell everyone to listen carefully because they will be required to add their opinion. After everyone has made an "out of the box" statement, then ask them to pass their notes to the left and then give them a moment to answer: "what do you think about the "out of the box" statement that you heard about the note you now have. Anything "out of the box" to add? It makes for a spontaneous "out of the box" fun discussion time.

    Twitter: kmac4him

  • This list applies to life – not just brainstorming sessions!

  • Mark says:

    I agree with this for sure! I know first hand the damage to momentum that can be done by filtering every idea through the “so-and-so won’t like that” filter.

    bold ideas require bold action!

    Great post.

  • @AlansLife says:

    Great post. I especially like the "post-list" comment about non-verbal communication. A lot can be said without being said to let everyone in the room know that you don't like an idea.

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