Criticizing Brainstorming

Friends, I think I might have something interesting say in the next couple of days. Until then, here are some more excerpts, this time from Cliff Kuang’s Fast Company article “The Brainstorming Process Is B.S. But Can We Rework It?”. And, yes, it also has that contrarian, all-those-ideas-from-the-forties-through-the-seventies-were-pretty-much-wrong flavor (with at least a hint of maybe-it-was-partly-right-but-we-know-better-now).

The business practice of brainstorming has been around with us so long that it seems like unadorned common sense: If you want a rash of new ideas, you get a group of people in a room, have them shout things out, and make sure not to criticize, because that sort of self-censoring is sure to kill the flow of new thoughts. . . .

[Alex Osborn, the 1940s ad man and inventor of brainstorming] thought, quite reasonably, that creativity was both brittle and fickle: In the presence of criticism, it simply couldn’t wring itself free from our own minds. We could only call our muses if judgments didn’t drag us down. Osborn claimed that this very brainstorming process was the secret to BBDO’s durable creativity, allowing his ad guys to produce as many as 87 ideas in 90 minutes—a veritable avalanche. “The brainstorm had turned his employees into imagination machines,” writes Jonah Lehrer in a long, excellent article in The New Yorker. But as Lehrer argues, the only problem with all this is that brainstorming is total bullshit. . . .

  • You’re More Creative Working Alone: “Putting people into big groups doesn’t actually increase the flow of ideas. Group dynamics themselves—rather than overt criticism—work to stifle each person’s potential.”
  • Criticism Improves the Brainstorming Process: “Usually, inventions often begin when an inventor spots a problem. Good ideas usually don’t hang by themselves, unattached. They come about as solutions. Thus, allowing criticism into a room full of people trying to brainstorm allows them to refine and redefine a problem.”
  • Creativity Is About Happenstance, Not Planning: “Too much familiarity bred groupthink. Too little meant that they didn’t have enough chemistry to challenge each other. The most productive groups were those with a baseline of familiarity but just enough fresh blood to make things interesting. . . . Studies have shown that the most successful groups of scientists also work in extremely close physical proximity. Just being around another creative person is vital to the process . . .”
This entry was posted in General, Life Lessons, This is who we are. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>