Brainstorming doesn’t work?

According to research cited by PsyBlog (one of my favorite blogs), brainstorming may not be as effective as people are lead to believe.

I wrote about brainstorming in The Secrets of Successful Brainstorming on my main website. And because I’ve conducted brainstorming sessions with clients, I know firsthand that there are limitations to this technique and that it’s hard to get brainstorming to work just right.

According to PsyBlog, problems such as people slacking in groups and fear of being evaluated can result in a group producing fewer and lower quality ideas than people working alone.

I can verify this from personal experience, though I have found that poor results come primarily from the wrong group mix, a rigid company culture, and inexperience with brainstorming.

In one brainstorming session for a magazine subscription service, I specified the people I wanted to attend. But when I got off the plane and drove to their office, I found the CEO and the company’s current ad agency reps in attendance.

The CEO intimidated his employees and killed ideas he didn’t like while the agency guys focused on defending their “territory” and disallowing any ideas that might show them up.

However, in another instance, I ran a brainstorming session with a much more compatible group from a nonprofit. Everyone felt comfortable with everyone else, no big bosses or authority figures attended, and the session produced well over 100 ideas, some of which we developed into new and effective ads and mailers.

PsyBlog suggests ideas for making brainstorming more effective:

These are all good ideas, but for the most part, this is what I and others have advised for effective brainstorming all along. However, none of this will work if the group is made up of the wrong mix of people or if the company culture has crushed the spontaneity out of their employees.

I have found that creative people tend to take to brainstorming faster than “business” types. But if you get rid of authority figures, change the venue to a relaxed location, and invite people who enjoy spending time with each other, I’m convinced you can get brainstorming to work for nearly any group.

In addition to the brainstorming article, I wrote an entire series of articles on creativity that address these issues. Click the link and scroll to the bottom of the page.

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