That awkward 4-o-clock moment in a brainstorm


Idea generation session are hard to set up. Many corporate people see brainstorms as 1h meetings where people can play with post-it notes. A quick brainstorm can be nice of course but when you look for a new market to venture in a 60 min break will not make any difference.

1. Invest time

When we bring a corporate team together we aim for at least 2-3 day sessions. You’ll need the time to get people in the right mindset. Preferable we start with a dinner where everybody comes together. A very informal meetup without stiff presentations or formal guidelines. It’s up to you if you would go for pizza delivery or a hipster sushi palace. Anyhow it is important that the setting is clearly unrelated to the normal day-to-day business context. Everybody should feel that exciting times are coming up!

The next morning you need to start with energisers and warm-up brainstorm exercises. Several good examples of exercise can be found in this book: Gamestorming.

During the first idea rounds I don’t expect good ideas at all. I just want people to get comfortable to share their opinions. It takes time for people to get in right mood.

Only by the first afternoon I expect to hear the first useful or clever ideas. You might have spend 6 hours already!

2. Balancing between crazy- & seriousness

Regardless of the company, industry, nationality or age of the participants we see that a strange pendulum effect that takes place during the day. The day starts slow, people get excited and strange ideas are being shared. The first out-of-the-box ideas are being presented. In the early afternoon people dare to go a little bit further and after the first really crazy ideas the first serious topics are being discussed. People need this crazy ideas first to get to the real stuff it seems.

And then there is the 4-o-clock moment where out of the blue dirty jokes and sexual languages comes forward. It feels almost as if people need to compensate their serious ideas of the afternoon with some thong-in-cheek jokes.

If we talk about a car sharing app participants start to joke about escort services. If we have a brainstorm on a digital social platform at 4pm we know the dating jokes will pop up. And so on. Believe us, this is not something solely linked to testosteron driven engineers or IT-geeks.

3. Coffee & conclusions

People need to have a laugh. They need to be relaxed to come up with lots of (good) ideas. As a brainstorm facilitators it’s our job to steer the discussions and ask the right questions. Just make sure that there is enough coffee and things will work out just fine. Have a good laugh but don’t forget to wrap up the day with the main conclusions to show people they did a great job during the day!


I’m Nick De Mey, founder Board of Innovation and foresight analyst at Venturesight – foresight-backed venture design. Let’s talk!

Like it? Share it!

Share on linkedin
Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Join 30K+ innovators and receive our latest posts