Ah, brainstorming. We’ve all relied on it at one time or another when we need to come up with fresh ideas. But does it work?
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably pretty sure it does. Haven’t we all been taught, after all, that brainstorming is one of the most effective activities by which to stimulate creative thinking? Moreover, haven’t we all engaged in it on numerous occasions?
Interestingly, there is a lot of recent research to suggest that brainstorming doesn’t work. Why? Because creativity is inherently combinatorial. That is, creativity usually emerges most reliably when ideas collide and bumb into each other. As I’ve argued before, there is no such thing as an original idea, just old ideas adapted, made better, and applied to new situations by bumping into other ideas.
Nor is this only a matter of association – that is, floating out all the ideas one can think of (which is the essence of brainstorming). Rather, creativity needs the friction created when we not only collect a variety of ideas, but also critique them. Good ideas are shaped in the forge of critical sharing and assessment.
Which is why brainstorming is rarely as effective as we’ve been led to believe. At the heart of brainstorming is the notion that critique stifles creativity. And so the number-one imperative in brainstorming is to remove all filters and silence all critique in order to nurture the free flow of creative ideas. Unfortunately, this negates the crucial and creative element of subjecting those ideas to further scrutiny and critique. In fact, absent intentional critical reflection, brainstorming can actually lead participants to develop a “hive mind,” where they tend to think more and more alike rather than cultivate the diversity of thought and perspective critical to creative thinking and problem-solving.
What emerges as centrally important, then, is the kind of critique we engage in. If participants feel that it is not their ideas that are being critiqued, but they themselves, then indeed it will be hard to take the risks creativity demands. But if we can create a climate in which folks feel free to float ideas, offer them up for discussion and evaluation, and get back even better ideas, then we can nurture truly creative communities.
In case you’re not sure about this particular idea , watch the brief video below and share your own critical reflections in the comments below!
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