Brainstorming doesn’t work! Creativity rules!
It’s still the go-to tool for coming up with ideas, but brainstorming is a waste of time and nearly always fails to result in good ideas.
The term was introduced more than 50 years ago in Applied Imagination, a book by advertising executive Alex Osborn, which was published in 1953. It was a cutting-edge idea at the time and thrived in offices where to-do lists were chalked on the blackboard in the director’s office.
However, the idea was debunked just five years later when, in 1958, Yale University ran a study to test brainstorming. Male undergraduates were divided into groups and given a number of creative puzzles. They were told that to solve the problems they must follow Osborn’s guidelines for brainstorming. To provide a control group, the same number of male students were given the same puzzles and told to work alone. The students working on their own came up with around twice the number of ideas and their ideas were found to be more “feasible” and “effective” by the judges.
In 2012, Keith Sawyer, a psychologist from Washington University, summarised the findings on brainstorming: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”
So here’s an alternative approach:
Work out the question you’re trying to answer
It should be one that when answered well could deliver significant benefit and a clear plan for your business. Initially, don’t try to think how it can be answered – just if it can be practically answered.
Gazing into space waiting for something to pop into your head rarely works. There are many creative thinking tools online, so try several and find the ones that work best for you. Or be really revolutionary and jot some ideas down on paper!
Give yourself thinking time
You come up with the best ideas when you feel most energised and creative, so make time for this and create a ritual around it. During these times, focus solely on the question and push all the other issues to one side.
Keep revisiting your question
Ever had an idea pop into your head from nowhere? That was because you had the question percolating in your mind and your subconscious was working on it in the background.
Brainstorming assumes thinking is a team sport, but teams don’t think – individuals do. Dedicate time for solo thinking in an environment, and at a time, that’s most effective for you and encourage your team to do the same.
Are you encouraging an individual creative thinking culture in your company?
Adapted from an article by Chris Thomason, guardian.com
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