Brainstorming is popular – way popular – especially in corporations and nonprofit organizations. But the truth is, research has shown over and over that people produce better quality ideas when they start by working alone. And yet, companies, nonprofits, and churches have enshrined “brainstorming” as the #1 go-to method for coming up with new ideas. Why?
My thinking is that creativity is so tough, it’s easier to get lots of people in a room, so the pressure on individuals is off. In other words, the people who should be coming up with the breakthrough ideas, pass it off to “group think” and duck the difficult work of developing the original and creative thinking.
Another reason is that a cardinal rule (I’ve even taught this in the past) is that there’s no place for criticism in a brainstorming session. The idea is that when you criticize someone for a idea you don’t like, you may hurt their feelings and they’ll clam up. Worse, perhaps their next idea would have been the big one, except now your criticism has shut them down.
Here’s my response – if you’re working with people who get their feelings hurt when you take a hard look at their ideas, then you’re working with amateurs. Creative professionals aren’t sissies – they understand that ideas should be vetted and yes – criticized – before they go to market. Don’t be a jerk about it and don’t talk down to people, but if you’re working with people who’s feelings get hurt every time their ideas are criticized, then they shouldn’t even be in the room.
So here’s my recommendation: Start individually. Give everyone on the team the task of developing the first stages of the idea. And only after they actually have something, then bring them in the room together to discuss, debate, and even (dare I say) criticize the ideas.
The critical step is “only after they have something.” Which means if they aren’t willing to do the hard work of starting with a blank page and actually developing rough ideas, then they shouldn’t be allowed in the room. Getting more people in the room doesn’t help coming up with original ideas. A group can hone, craft, and develop the ideas, but time after time, you’ll find the best ideas start with a single person.
How about you? Have you experienced the failure of brainstorming?