Monthly Archives: July 2012

The myth of brainstorming

Brainstorming is the brain child of Alex Osborne. It comes from his 1948 book called “Your Creative Power” and it was an immediate hit.

It was introduced in Chapter 33: “How to Organize a Squad to Create Ideas.” Brainstorming, he wrote, “means using the brain to storm a creative problem—and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.”

The essential element that distinguishes brainstorming from other group activities is the total absence of criticism and negative feedback. The theory is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they’ll just clam up and not say anything.

In the late 1950s, researchers started poking holes in the practice. Over the decades since, research has verified that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than individuals who work first on their own and then pool their ideas.

Researchers also tested the premise about not criticizing and found that a healthy amount of “authentic dissent” generates far more ideas.

The enduring lesson from brainstorming is, however, that human creativity is increasingly a group process. Some of the elements of the process may change, but as our world grows more populated and more complex, we have to collaborate to find answers to the most difficult problems.

The challenge is to continuously create space for this kind of creativity to take place. It can be as structured as Steve Jobs putting the only bathrooms in the atrium at Pixar or as free-flowing as a well facilitated meeting.

These thoughts derive, as per the previous blog, from the January 30, 2012 New Yorker article on “Groupthink” by Jonah Lehrer.

Human friction

The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together.
It is the human friction that makes the sparks.

This comes from an article in the January 30, 2012 New Yorker (I’m actually not behind in my magazine reading … just random) called “Groupthink.” The question for me has been: how does this happen when our virtual work environments keep us largely online and on Skype rather than face-to-face?

Urban theorist Jane Jacobs and Steve Jobs both recognized the importance of physical proximity and chance meetings leading to incidental conversations known as knowledge spillovers. Whether it’s walking in a neighbourhood full of front porches to the local shops or running into a colleague at the only set of bathrooms in the Pixar atrium, they both recognized that people need to randomly run into each other.

Ironically, both Jabobs and Jobs worked hard at creating intentional spaces for random spontaneity—places where people had to run into each other and let their ideas rub around. Some of the most exciting developments of our time have come about through chance conversations.

I’ve worked almost entirely virtually since 2000. While Skype has been a tremendous boon to maintaining conversations and connections around the world and across the country, it’s not enough. It’s why I am so drawn to good facilitation. A well-planned gathering is like a Jane Jacobs neighbourhood—a well-laid out space and process that opens the door to constructive group think.

Conversations may happen by chance, but not the environment that creates the random pathways that draw the most creative of ideas out of people’s heads. That’s the point of a well planned meeting for organizations whose people aren’t rubbing up against each other on a daily basis.

Let Kabisa help you plan your next gathering. We’ll get some sparks flying!