Of course you know that brainstorming is an essential collaborative process for generating ideas.

And you know that a brainstorming session is often the best way to develop innovative concepts or to solve problems. But brainstorming is trickier than it appears. You can't just grab a flipchart and markers, or a bunch of Post-It notes and jump in, hoping for the best.

In fact, brainstorming often goes so horribly wrong that you're better off not facilitating the session at all.

That's why it's important to test your assumptions about brainstorming so you can learn tips that will help you improve your next brainstorming session. Answer the questions first (at least in your head) before scrolling down.

1. True or False: It's better to conceal the purpose of a brainstorming session so that participants can be more creative.

2. True or False: You should only invite people who know a lot about the topic to a brainstorming session.

3. True or False: The senior person on the team should never be the facilitator because he/she will shut down participants' creativity.

3. True or False: When planning your brainstorming session, it's best not to invite more than 10 people.

4. True or False: The best time to dispute impractical or off-target ideas is right away, as soon as they are stated.

5. True or False: Brainstorming sessions need to be positive. It's a bad idea to generate bad ideas.

6. True or False: It's okay to narrow down the list of ideas during a brainstorming session.

How did you do? Here are the answers:

1. FALSE:  Before you do anything else, write a one-sentence focus statement that defines what you want to accomplish. And share it with brainstorming participants, so that everyone understands the objective and focus of the session before you begin.

2. FALSE:  You should invite a diverse group of people with different perspectives on the subject. It's important to invite people who are knowledgeable about the brainstorming topic as well as those who are not. People who don't know anything about the topic will bring a fresh perspective.

3. TRUE . . . and FALSE.This is my only trick question. If the leader is very TypeA and opinionated, it may be difficult for he/she to be successful as a neutral facilitator. In that case, assign someone else to play the role and remind the leader that he/she needs to give everyone a chance to share ideas. If, however, the leader is an experienced facilitator, it's okay for him/her to assume the role.

4. TRUE: It can be difficult to facilitate a discussion with more than 10 people. If more people want to be involved, then plan more sessions.

5. FALSE: The purpose of the brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible. Initially, no one should assess or criticize any of the ideas.

6. FALSE.There's a brainstorming technique called reverse thinking in which you encourage people to think of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad ideas. That frees participants' minds to uncover to what will actually work.

7. TRUE:  After brainstorming, if you choose to, you can narrow down the ideas to a few action items.  Participants "multi-vote" by taking turns check-marking five or six items (each) on the flip charts that they believe are the best ideas listed.

And here are six rules of the road to remember when brainstorming:

  • The purpose of brainstorming is to generate ideas, not judge them.
  • Since you never know where an idea might lead, welcome those that may seem crazy, off-base, expensive, unrealistic, too simple, etc.
  • Build on other people's ideas; don't shoot them down.
  • Don't interrupt whoever is speaking (write your idea down if you are afraid you'll forget it.).
  • Outside interruptions are not allowed.
  • Participate and have fun!