Here’s Proof That Brainstorming Doesn’t Actually Work


There's an alternative.

Empty chairs in a circle

Ah, the old brainstorming session. It solves everything, doesn’t it? Got an issue with a client? Brainstorm it. Having trouble nutting out your next campaign? Pop a date in the diary and get a mind map going. Water cooler not dispensing liquid? Get out the magic markers and you’ll have solved the issue by end of day.

You’ll note my subtle sarcasm here. That’s because brainstorming is actually one of the worst ways to go about finding a solution.

One of the main reasons brainstorming is ineffective is due to the difference in the thinking of individuals, versus the thinking of a group: individuals more commonly partake in divergent thinking – where you deal with several problems at once – and groups are more suited to convergent thinking, where you hone in on subjects and choose which idea works best.

Not only that, but there’s also the problem with including more timid colleagues, who might not be comfortable exposing their ideas to potential criticism. While employing a “non-critical” approach seems fair, it also inhibits more critical analysis of a subject. (A study by Berkeley professor Charlan Nemeth estimates that when groups were allowed to criticise, it resulted in 20 per cent more creative ideas than a group that wasn’t permitted.)

One of the main reasons brainstorming is ineffective is due to the difference in the thinking of individuals, versus the thinking of a group.

All in all, we should adopt another strategy if we want to retain creativity, and get things done.

What can you do instead? It’s called brainwriting. Remember in kindergarten when you’d have to consider the answer to a question silently, then go around the class and present your findings? Well, there’s merit in that. It’s what Leigh Thompson calls “brainwriting.” How it works is simple: present the problem to the group and have the group solve it, in silence. Let them scribble down their answers, let them think, let them write nothing, because even in the last instance, there’s more cognitive benefit to the session’s outcomes than brainstorming.

“The more silences and pauses that occur, the more likely it is that a divergent cycle can be created”, Leigh writes.

First, it prevents that unbelievably annoying person jumping on top of your idea and disrupting your flow. Secondly, there’s more deep thought that’s involved when you’re amongst your own thoughts, not everybody else’s. Thirdly, the silence reduces group “conformity”, another major hindrance of creativity, “since the written format eliminates the need for public speaking and is typically more anonymous than oral brainstorming.”

That’s reason enough for us.

Read More: 4 Body Language No-nos to Avoid In Interviews

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