Sweeping Generalization #12: “Brainstorming is Dumb”

I read an article recently (in July, actually. I’ve been busy) with the catchy title “Brainstorming is Dumb.”  Caught my attention, because I’m a big fan of brainstorming, and facilitate “brainstorming sessions” fairly frequently.

Turns out “brainstorming” is not dumb. A single technique, where people shout out ideas while others allegedly listen and create more ideas, has apparently been proven to be somewhat ineffective.

“…group brainstorming has many downsides—chief among them is that only a single person can talk at a time, which means that one or two people can dominate the conversation. It also means that while someone is sharing his idea, others might forget their own ideas or the group may become fixated on the ideas people already shared. “Brainstorming is a complex process where people are trying to listen, think, add, collaborate, build,” says Paul Paulus, a professor psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington. “It’s cumbersome, it’s difficult psychologically, and people don’t do it very well.”

Well, yeah. If that’s all you do, and if you don’t have a facilitator who can manage the process well enough so that one person doesn’t dominate, and who can’t engage participants in effective ways to listen and to build on what people are saying.

“Brainstorming,” to me, is a synonym for ideation. And it consists of utilizing many tools and techniques, (including “brain writing,” which the article advocates) led by a facilitator who is constantly adapting to the needs of the group, the issue, and the dynamics of the moment.

Bottom line – you probably will be less effective in coming up with good ideas if all you do is stand in front of a whiteboard or easel pad and ask people to shout out ideas. All the more reason to think in a robust manner about ways to get people to think creatively, build off each other, engage, and…ideate.

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