I have a confession to make. I hate meetings.
Maybe that is not entirely true. I hate bad meetings.
You know the ones where you spend a lot of time going round and round in circles, yet seem to accomplish little at the end of the day. One of those main staples of these meetings has been “brainstorming”. This process is one that has been heralded in not only meetings, but also for “Design Thinking” (here is a document on the techniques os brainstorming in design thinking from Stanford University, Institute of Design).
So out of sheer curiosity, I googled “brainstorming is bad” to see what I found (not biased at all I know). Here are a few of the articles that I read with little snippets from each.
Why Brainstorming is Overrated; A New Approach to Creativity
This is a great article and talks about how sometimes “extroverts” can easily jade this process. It also talks about other opportunities to become creative through “not meeting”.
I love this quote from the article:
My brainstorming basics are simple. Meet less. Think more. Draw inspiration from your day’s little moments.
Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Spark Innovation
This article is an interesting read because it focuses more on the science of “brainstorming”, and actually compares it to “leeches”. Here is a little tidbit:
The theory of brainstorming is that you turn off your analytical left brain, turn on your intuitive right brain, and creative ideas pop out. But neuroscience now tells us that there is no right or left side of the brain when it comes to thinking. Creative ideas actually happen in the mind, as the whole brain takes in past elements, then selects and combines them — and that’s how creative strategy works.
This article, actually linked to the following discussing innovation, entitled, “From Intuition to Creation“, and how some of the ideas aren’t necessarily “innovation”, but simply rehashing “best practice”.
Brainstorming works fine when you don’t need an innovation. People brainstorm mostly to solve problems they already know how to solve with their current expertise, at least as a group. When you brainstorm, you really throw out ideas from your personal experience — these come to mind fastest and strongest. If you have a problem that the total personal expertise of six people can solve, then brainstorming is very efficient. But if the solution actually lies outside their personal expertise, brainstorming is a trap — you toss out ideas and get conventional wisdom, not an innovation.
This really makes me think about the differences between “solving a problem” and “creating a solution”. Are the two phrases always the same?
Why Brainstorming is Bad For Creativity
I thought this was a great article, for two reasons. First of all, how much do we really listen to others ideas when we are trying to share our own great ideas.
Remembering what you were going to say is not easy when you’re listening to others sharing their ideas. Chances are you’ll have forgotten your brilliant idea by the time you finally get to speak. Even worse, the entire time you’re trying to listen while remembering your own idea, you won’t be able to generate new ideas. The classical brainstorm session limits the amount of ideas that can be generated in a set amount of time. The more people you add to a brainstorm-group, the fewer ideas will be generated per participant per hour.
The second part is about the process of quiet reflection when we are trying to move forward.
Of course there is an obvious solution to these problems: quiet thinking sessions. First people write down their ideas (as much of them as possible) individually or in duos. Then every participant shares their ideas in the group. This doesn’t mean the ideas will be discussed of course, for the ideation phase is no place for criticism. Ideas can be built upon however and might be improved or reshaped into a new idea.
Anytime I have done workshops, I have ensured that there was time for quiet, yet open reflection. Often, I don’t only ask people to share their thoughts, but also their questions, because you never know the spark that it might create in someone else, hearing about a problem they never thought existed.
Brainstorming Doesn’t Work; Try This Technique Instead
This article talks about the few people that can often dominate a brainstorming session, and this little
Thompson – Brainwriting
I like the shift from “brainstorming” to “brainwriting”. This process allows a focus on the ideas, as opposed to the people, which ultimately is the most important aspect of this process. You do not want to eliminate a great idea because the person behind doesn’t “sell” you enough on it.
With just these few articles, I know that I am going to challenge the next time I am asked to “brainstorm” in the way that I have mostly seen come to play in schools. What I really noticed from this piece is just how important it is to find ways to share ideas that are not biased or affected by individuals, and give time for people to have some of their own processing. The opportunity to reflect is not done enough in schools or professional learning, and it seems that my best ideas tend to come while I am exercising or listening to music, as opposed to shouting ideas in a room with my peers. We need to think about how we can honour more voices and create better ideas through this process.
John Spencer wrote a great post titled, “Seven Ways to Fix Brainstorming“, in response to what I wrote above. The process he shares is much different, than what I have experienced.