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Brainstorming is Bad

I was reading an article today on '4 reasons you can't brainstorm creative ideas and what you should do instead'. It presented some arguments with good references to research that backed those up. I was quite surprised by the bold statement that 'Brainstorming is bad' when it comes to creativity, however, reading through it made sense based on some of my experiences.

How many times do we put learners in a situation where, they are challenged with thinking about problems and creating solutions on the spot in that given moment? In fact, how many times do we do this in everyday meetings? 

According to the article, in research published in the Harvard Business Review, Teresa Amabile, a Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, showed that pressure is almost always terrible for creative thinking. Whilst the article does point out that time-pressure can work by being a spur that leads to the eureka moment, it made it clear that this rarely occurs in a brainstorming setting. This is due to other factors in the environment such as uncritical thinking, overwhelming characters and group think. The article goes on to say that 'Stuffing people in a room and tell them ‘Go!’ is really the worst thing for original thought'. The suggestion is that instead, it is wiser to give people as much warning and time to prepare as possible; a heads up and a chance to plan.

Perhaps this is something we should include in our invitations to meetings or sessions where brainstorming is involved. Rather than leave the session as a surprise and see what comes out, perhaps there is mileage in saying to people, 'In our session, we are going to talk about ideas to solve x. Between now and then, have a think through and write down some ideas to bring with you'.

What's your experience of brainstorming? Does it work or have there been times where you've been locked in a room for hours without coming out with any real substance? Is brainstorming as bad as this article suggests?

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  • This article ties together with this webinar that you posted while ago, explaining disadvantages of brainstorming. http://community.dpgplc.co.uk/l-d-resources/how-to-generate-brillia...  

    It also explains that brainstorming needs to be controlled and carried out correctly. One of the methods how to do it is using Six Thinking Hats method, I discovered this method whilst preparing presentation for my CIPD qualification, and heard good reviews from people who have used the method! 

    • Thanks Raimonda. It does doesn't it. Seems like there's some synergy in these in how we harness our creativity. I found this one particularly useful yesterday too that looks at how creativity should be done in isolation as well as part of groups. Again, some of my experiences seem to marry up with this approach too with some good results... 


  • Necessity is the mother of invention, i would argue creativity can and does occur when people are under pressure, whether or not it is under the title brainstorming is up for debate, as the concept of planned creativity is hard to grasp. If the right minds are in the room so is the solution in my experience.

    • Couldn't agree more Jacob with the planned creativity being hard to grasp. I find this a lot in my role. My role allows me to flex my hours outside the typical 9-5. Sometimes, my best creations are late at night. Whist sometimes creativity flows sitting down at a prescribed time, very often it's hard to just turn it on and say, 'I'm going to be creative right now'. It can happen spontaneously but so can that creative block.

      I find that some of my most creative ideas come to me when I'm relaxed and not really planning to be creative. Walking the dog, brainwave moments in the pub, or eureka moments bimbling about my daily life! I think that's why I've warmed to some of what the article is saying resonates with me. A heads up before the event gives those opportunities for thoughts, ideas, innovations and creations to crop up when you were least looking for them.

      • Haha the image of saying 'i'm going to be creative now' out loud amuses me!

        Definitely agree it can happen anywhere anytime, and a heads up to whats going on at a meeting is going to be helpful, however for me its entirely dependent on what the topic/subject of the meeting/issue is, just by being in a different environment we respond differently so, perhaps a focus on environment could help as well.

        As Einstein supposedly said ' The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results' perhaps we need real freedom to be truly creative in our problem solving.

        • Yes Yes!! The environment.Some places just inspire you don't they. And some un-inspire! Right, who's coming walkees! 

          Love the Einstein quote. Very true.

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