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10 Things That Will Hinder Your Creative Process and Stifle Your Productivity

Ideation is the process of generating, developing, actualizing and communicating ideas. Well, this process is a lot more fragile than you might believe – because, just like everywhere, there are barriers which will arise, and in order to have a conducive session you must overcome them.

Design Thinking is essentially the art of breaking down barriers between processes and thoughts, and it would be nowhere without the art of ideation. But what could cause your ideation session to go wrong? A whole lot! But we have got you covered.

Inexperienced Mediation

Both the process and the outcomes of ideation are really fun, but we must not confuse fun with easy. Running an Ideation Workshop requires focus on a user and a problem statement, a heightened awareness of working group dynamics and clear purposeful steering. Leading an ideation workshop takes lots of experience: it requires a clear set of rules and a problem statement which is being worked on. In order to make an ideation session productive ensure that the leader is well prepared, has a clear grasp on the ideas behind ideation, and should focus on facilitating the discussion. If you are working towards becoming a facilitator we highly recommend practising in small groups of people you know already from even the comfort of your living room. The point is to be well versed in managing a group cohesively towards a goal. 

Inexperienced Team

The world of design thinking is expanding fast, but we cannot assume that every person we are working with on a team has had the proper introduction or experience. Since the point of a workshop is so dynamically different from the meeting many who are on teams have experienced, it is up to the facilitator to bridge the gap between the old and new ways. Ideation requires its unique form of chaos and ambiguity, in order for it to be truly effective. A trained team knows this and operates with ease in these conditions. A newcomer might be shocked at the disarray, causing fear or anxiety, and this could have negative effects on the workshop. A facilitator should begin a session by using exercises that illustrate how the creative process works, being fun and meaningful at the same time. One of the most common icebreakers that you can use are the Worst Possible Idea game, where you encourage a team to feel so free and explore that you pose a question and find the worst possible ideas for its solution: this breaches peoples inhibitions and takes away the fear of benign scared to speak up. The creative process should make sense to each one of the participants in order for it to have the best outcome, every person has their own way of seeing the world, and the beauty of this workshop is to see all the colors shine. As a facilitator you must show the ways it pays off to participate in this organized chaos we call the process of ideation.

Uninviting Space/Atmosphere

We all know how much our environment contributes to our ability to focus, work, create, perceive and interact with one another. Our environment is both physical (space) and social (hierarchy), so we should try to address both. It is essential to create an open and non-threatening environment for those who will be participating as this will result in more flexibility and freedom of expression. Think of trying to do an ideation session in a cubicle office… BIG NO! You need a space that can accommodate all the exercise in your ideation session. For example, you have a large group activity that needs to split off into smaller teams, or individuals, how could you make this work spatially? You want to create an environment that has the freedom to move and breathe, as well as ensure that during the session of ideation company hierarchy is not in place enabling all team members to speak up comfortably.

Poorly Defined Objective

Every ideation session needs to have a clear goal and a problem statement/point of view. These objectives are defined by two Design Thinking phases: Empathise & Define. After the ideation session one moves into prototyping and testing phases, so by the point, the ideation session is happening there has been enough research to define a clear objective. We make these distinctions in the process because it makes workshop sessions more meaningful and focused – trying to overcome the notion that people naturally incline towards issues that directly relate to them and their field of influence. 



The inflexibility of the mind means that you cannot build knowledge on external stimulus, and we have each encountered this in one way or another – it could be a person who is convinced that they have the best idea and thus become oblivious to other contributions, or someone who just does not believe in the process, also known as a skeptic.  We might be comfortable and familiar with the old ways of thinking, this cloud of complacency hinders future development and we have to make people understand that innovation is a must across the majority of sectors these days. It is the job of the facilitator to ensure that the participants open their minds as well as their hearts to the process. 

Ideation sessions are above all group sessions, and it functions best when all ideas can be expressed equally and mixed up in ways that are unusual. Sometimes the best ideas come from the worst, so never discard any idea, also why the Worst Possible Idea method is actually a great way to start, considering all bad, illegal, terrible, and stupid ideas – then challenge them to turn them into good ones, whether by way of the exact opposite or just draw as a form of inspiration. 

Limiting Ideas

When you are on the clock, there is a tendency to limit ideation sessions as soon as a few seemingly good ideas come into the pile. By not taking the time to delve into the unknown of lesser great ideas, or better ones that could arise from those is basically useless ideation session. If time is limited you may think about not starting the session at all, since it is a waste of time to not elaborate on, investigate or fully develop these ideas. In an ideation session your aim is quantity, the more thoughts you bring onto the table the more diverse range of ideas you have to evaluate -these could show patterns in ways you might not have seen before and you do not want to miss that!

Devil´s Advocate Arrives Too Soon

Judgement is the worst idea for creativity. One rule we should observe is the expression of ideas as they are, without criticism, requests for over-explanation (not to be mixed with clarification) or censure. You must essentially ban the Devil’s Advocate from entering the meeting before all the ideas have been put out since this side of a personality can destroy progress with their hypercritical negative thinking. It might be helpful if in the first part of an ideation session you prohibit the use of the word “no,” and though this might seem like a futile gesture, you will be surprised at how effective of a tool it is in creating a collaborative, curious and friendly environment.  Think of  Jim Carrey’s “Yes Man” and all the roads that would take you on, so try it out and say yes to the weirdest ideas!


Humans have a tendency to adopt the norms of those people we spend time with, this is groupthink, as we tend to not want to act or express different views for fear of being perceived as a non-group member. The desire to fit in, lack of self-confidence, and avoidance of controversy are the human factors that contribute to this group think downturn. Groupthink can lead to a collective closed-mindedness, or just not enough innovation. In order to resolve this, you can employ brainwriting techniques, and incorporate individual time for people to live out their creative process. It is important as a facilitator to realize how evident groupthink is in any given team and try to combat that direction whenever possible.


Cognitive Bias

A cognitive bias is a generalization, developed by individuals based on their experiences and their preferences. These are automatic reactions that are applied in given situations. You cannot pretend to control the cognitive bias of each member of the team, but you can try to ameliorate tensions derived from negative ones. How can you prevent negative cognitive biases from coming into play when affecting organizational development and decision making? As a facilitator, it’s your duty to encourage acceptance and open-mindedness to help a group collectively build on an idea that individuals develop and move through the group. Ultimately it is each individual’s level of self-awareness that impacts their own cognitive bias – everyone takes from a session what they can intake. 

Idea Killers

We have all heard tons of reasons why innovative thinking is rejected. It is the job of the facilitator to ban all of the idea killers at all costs during the ideation session. Below we have outlined a list compiled by Igor Byttebier and Ramon Vullings that you will all come across during any ideation session so get familiar with them and nip them in the bud!

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To Finish Up…

Now that you are aware of the most common traps for ideation you can start putting your solutions into practice. It is helpful to know these situations for when one arises you are prepared and know the best way to handle it. Successful ideation sessions are dependent on an experienced facilitator and ideation team, who have the proper training and practices to navigate around the barriers to fruitful creative process.

Laura Brazay

Digital branding specialist with experience in social media strategy, and a background in Business Administration, who sees life in the full spectrum of colours. I spend my free time taking long walks exploring the city with my pup.

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