Blamestorm – I learned this word (it’s actually a dictionary word!) today in an article I was reading on why brainstorming doesn’t work in organizations. In the article “Why brainstorming doesn’t work“, the Washington Post journalist argues that brainstorming generally doesn’t yield expected results because people have a misconception of how it works. A large group is gathered and asked to present, brainstorm, and come up with creative ideas. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, and I have seen it plenty of times to believe it’s true. It has also been proved by recent research.
Why brainstorming in the traditional sense doesn’t work? Because people fixate on others’ ideas. They focus too much on what others are saying, they are led in a particular direction by the most vocal members, and they are scared of presenting radical ideas. We are social in nature. We prefer to be in groups where we belong, and we don’t want to do anything that goes against the majority. In his excellent book “The Wisdom of Crowds“, James Suroweicki argues that diversity and independence are very important for a group to come up with wise decisions. Tom Kelly of IDEO, in his book, “The Art of Innovation” (one of the best books I’ve ever read) , has also written about the prerequisite of having a diverse group for generating innovative ideas.
So what works? One, have a small group of people with diverse educational backgrounds, work and life experiences, areas of expertise, cultures, etc. because they bring a unique perspective to the table. And two, give them freedom and let them work independently, generate multiple, diverse, radical ideas, and then bring everyone together to brainstorm and build on each others’ ideas. However, most of the times, the opposite happens. A large group meets to brainstorm. Some people dominate, in order of corporate hierarchy, and the focus is on building consensus instead of encouraging dissension and lateral thinking.
But this is not the only way brainstorming works. A wide body of research proves that brainstorming can work if there is a trained facilitator to guide the session, enforce some ground rules, and elicit ideas from the participants. “Trained” is the key word here.
Don’t forget: Brainstorming works!
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