Here we go again. The Globe and Mail in Canada reported last week that yet another university was trying to disprove the effectiveness of group brainstorming. The article’s below, or you can read it here.
Becoming Less Creative
“When people, groups or organizations are looking for a fresh perspective on a project, they often turn to a brainstorming exercise to get those juices flowing. An upcoming study from Applied Cognitive Psychology suggests that this may not be the best route to take to generate unique and varied ideas,” Science Daily reports. “The researchers from Texas A&M University show that group brainstorming exercises can lead to fixation on only one idea or possibility, blocking out other ideas and possibilities, and leading eventually to a conformity of ideas. Lead researcher Nicholas Kohn explains: ‘Fixation to other people’s ideas can occur unconsciously and lead to you suggesting ideas that mimic your brainstorming partners. Thus, you potentially become less creative.’”
When I read about these studies, I’m curious what they’re ultimately trying to accomplish. That we should no longer brainstorm as a group? That brainstorming solo is better than brainstorming with other people? That there’s a better way to generate ideas – and if so, what is it? (Or is it easier to simply be negative than constructive?)
I hope the objective isn’t merely to prove that group brainstorming is inefficient, because any tool is ineffective when it’s not used correctly. You’re wasting your time if you cut meat with an upside-down knife as much as you’re wasting your time if you don’t follow the basic principles of brainstorming.
Or, if you want to follow the Globe’s headline, here’s how not to be creative.
- Have no commitment to understanding the problem to be solved
- Have no commitment among the brainstorm team to work together as a team to solve the problem
- Make sure none of the brainstorm team have training in idea generation, collaboration or teamwork
- Make sure none of the brainstorm teams have direct, relevant or parallel experience with the problem
- Don’t prepare in advance
- Don’t include any warm-up exercises to stimulate the imagination, or have exercises during the brainstorm to keep momentum going
- Don’t ask a true facilitator to lead an/or focus the brainstorm
(I paraphrased these points from Robert Alan Black, from his original post in a forum of the Creative Skills Training Council. His original post from that forum is below.)
As soon as I see the term GROUP BRAINSTORMING used in a study I immediately question the actual value of the study. Brainstorming – as anyone with training in idea generation knows – is a speech technique or tool. Brainstorming as it is typically used is an overly generic term for people getting together and being asked to generate ideas. In these supposed BRAINSTORMING sessions, there is
- No true facilitator
- No warm up
- No preparation for the problem
- No true experience
- No teamwork training
- Little to no commitment of the people to work as a team
- Little to no commitment of the people to the actual problem