Brainstorming sessions can be conducted in all sorts of ways and it could be that I just had some bad experiences but I am not so sure. Some time ago, I was invited to give a talk and run a knowledge cafe as part of a large workshop and I stayed on and took part in the rest of the workshop. At one point we had to think up ideas, write them on post-it notes and stick therm on the wall.
As I did this I was talking with the people around me until the facilitator ordered me to keep quiet and to focus on what was doing! I explained that I didn't find trying to think up ideas on my own very effective. That good ideas surfaced from the conversations I was having. He was not moved so I kept quiet.
But this reminded me of my corporate brainstorming days. You were not allowed to discuss the ideas - just shout them out to be captured on a flip chart with no discussion and especially no criticism.
Imagine my delight when I came across this article Groupthink: The brainstorming myth by Jonah Lehrer, The New Yorker. Here are a few extracts:
The underlying assumption of brainstorming is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they'll end up saying nothing at all. The appeal of this idea is obvious: it's always nice to be saturated in positive feedback.
Typically, participants leave a brainstorming session proud of their contribution. The whiteboard has been filled with free associations.
Brainstorming seems like an ideal technique, a feel-good way to boost productivity. But there is a problem with brainstorming. It doesn't work.
Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.
Osborn thought that imagination is inhibited by the merest hint of criticism, but Nemeth's work and a number of other studies have demonstrated that it can thrive on conflict.
According to Nemeth, dissent stimulates new ideas because it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints.
“There's this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone's feelings,” she says. “Well, that's just wrong.
Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive. True creativity requires some trade-offs.
Andrew Armour beleives we need more conversation and less brainstorming. I agree.