Recently, I was talking with a future client who works for a global company based out of Switzerland. I asked her about the problems that prevents creativity in her organization. She started off by explaining a typical brainstorm. She lamented that they only last for 30 seconds before someone interjects with a criticism – even though, everyone knows you don’t criticize during a brainstorm. This is a rule going back to 1948! After that first criticism, it’s hard to get back on track with ideation.

We got into an animated conversation about brainstorm spans. This is sort of like an attention span. A brainstorm span is the length of time that a team is able to engage in generating ideas before someone starts criticizing them. 30 seconds is rather sad, yet oh-so-typical. Combining her experience and my experience in failed brainstorms, I figure 30 seconds must be the most common global brainstorm span (e.g. the mode). I barely consider this a real brainstorm.

Brainstorms don’t need to be long, but 30 seconds is too short.

If the average person speaks 75 words and an idea requires 15-20 words to explain, that means, at most, you can get four ideas out in 30 seconds. Four ideas is not a brainstorming session. It just feels like a lazy list.

OK, what to do?

First, bring up this concept of brainstorm span with your team. You want to really get into generating ideas. As a team you also want to develop your skills around generating ideas. (Yes, it’s a skill.)

Next, be clear you are entering into ideation mode. Ask team members to hold off on evaluating the ideas until you have a set number. If you are new at this, aim for 20 ideas. If you have more practice, get to 50. It actually, won’t take as long as you’d think to create a list of new ideas. Be sure to write them and number them as you go. Numbering helps with motivation and focus.

Third, if the team is staying in ideation mode, but the ideas are slowing down, try using a different technique besides the classic brainstorm. In this post I explain directions for some other techniques.

Finally, after you have your list, spend time talking about the ideas, focusing on the best ones that are most likely to work. Try to stay away from pointing out the flaws of the worst ideas, but instead look at what might work.

The more you do this, the better you will get. Your team will develop skills and stamina around ideation and pretty soon you’ll have a healthy brainstorm span rate. Can you get up to 10 minutes? 20 minutes?

Weekly Challenge

Try the exercise above.

What is your team’s brainstorm span?
Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear what works for you!


Osborn, A. (1948) Your Creative Power.