Brainstorming: Man-made disasters?


I recently came upon this article in the New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer that talked about the inherent problem with “brainstorming”[1].

Myth: Brainstorming should be in groups free of criticism to foster creativity

Reality: Criticism creates MORE ideas of HIGHER quality

The consensus among “brainstorming” advocates is that if you allow people to offer ideas, free of criticism, in a ‘safe’ environment that you’ll get better suggestions than people either a) working alone or b) being allowed to critique and challenge proposed ideas.


Research shows that both assumptions are wrong.


First, individuals can come up with more ideas on their own, sometimes TWICE as many ideas. Mainly because instead of listening to someone offer up a an awful idea, evaluating the merits and thinking of its use in context[2], you would be generating more ideas with the proper parameters already in place.


Yet, leaders feel they need to gather the troops together in a conference room or on a “retreat”[3] where they can hammer out ideas. Then they stipulate that there will be no criticism of any idea.


How can you validate the strength of an idea without looking for the flaws??


As Charlan Nemeth showed in his research “Debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.”


Can brainstorming with criticism get out of control? Sure, if an ineffective moderator allows it. Quality leaders allows criticism, sets the proper tone to for constructive criticism and knows when to move on when the idea is proven to be good or not so good.


Let people come up with ideas on their own then bring them together to share, debate, eliminate and defend their ideas to really get the most from your team.


Don’t let brainstorming become a man-made disaster!


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