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Brainstorming Kills Creativity
One of the methods Madison Avenue uses to generate ideas is the infamous brainstorming session. In my experience however, I’d always leave these groupthinks feeling that we hadn’t really hit a homerun. On paper, all the right ingredients were in place—smart people locked in a room with the directive to spout ideas no matter how good or bad they were.
I’ve been at a loss to explain why these sessions didn’t work until now. Apparently it’s because people are too polite.
In a wonderful article in the January 30th issue of The New Yorker, author Jonah Lehrer lists several studies, papers and experiments analyzing this phenomenon. One of the key findings reported on was the fact that because people are not supposed to criticize one another during brainstorming sessions, participants are not stimulated enough to refine the ideas that are proposed. In other words, instead of generating great thinking, brainstorms often generate pablum.
Thankfully, most of my brainstorming has occurred with just one person: my copywriter partner. Over the years, I always found that working with one person was exponentially more productive than brainstorming with several. We were not afraid to criticize each other’s ideas. Our partnership/friendship was able to handle it. Often, the rejection of an idea led to the refinement of it, which led to further refinement, and so on until we had an idea that was much stronger than the original. It also helped that it was just the two of us. Listening to one person’s bad idea takes a lot less time than having to listen to a whole conference room full of them. Kill the bad idea and move on. No need to politely listen to everyone have their (crappy) say.
Will groupthinking go away as a result of these studies? Probably not. But maybe brainstorms will stop being monsoons of mediocrity and become showers of smartness instead.
Photo credit: DUP Photos