Does brainstorming work?

Not according to Jonah Lehrer in this two-minute video from the RSA. He says research shows that brainstorming produces less original ideas than so people working by themselves. The group becomes, he says, “less than the sum of our parts.”

Apparently the problem with brainstorming is the part that’s supposed to be its greatest strength – the rule of non-criticism, the idea that (at this stage at least) there are no bad ideas. The lack of criticism is supposed to encourage people to feel free to suggest more original ideas.

But the problem, Lehrer says, is that the process is too superficial. “Our free associations are bound by language and language is full of cliches.” Allowing constructive criticism is actually more effective because it forces us to dig deeper.

Lehrer doesn’t go into this in the video, but perhaps one of the keys to building a strong creative environment is one in which ideas can be suggested and scrutinized without the conversation turning overly dismissive, personal, or nasty. And let’s not forget the value of independent work.

I’ve seen a lot of good ideas come out of informal conversations, but few if any emerge from brainstorming sessions. Maybe part of it is the formality: “All right, everyone, let’s be creative…. GO!” as opposed to the spontaneity of a conversation in which you aren’t necessarily trying to generate ideas.

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) website is www.thersa.org.

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One thought on “Does brainstorming work?

  1. Pingback: Product Innovation-What If We Rethink Our Products | Markets And Trading

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