Can It Be that Brainstorming Is Bad?

Apparently all the prior research that suggests that brainstorming and group work is important to creativity- is wrong. Or so suggests a recent article in business magazine. Psychologist Nicholas Kohn from the University of Texas conducted research on students asking them to come up with new ideas for the university – in both groups and individually (in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology).

The researchers discovered that the groups formulated fewer ideas than their solitary peers. They then suggest that the cause is “fixation” on one good idea and “social loafing” (less responsibilty because the responsibility is shared).

I find this misses the whole point. It’s not brainstorming that is bad, it is the process in which brainstorming takes place that is problematic. Everyone knows that if you do not feel safe in a group, you are unlikely to put your neck out. Our human fears about being judged or criticized far outweigh our eagerness to come up with creative ideas. Groups will tend to remain silent if working in an unsafe place that does not promote interaction and risk taking. I spent many pages in both my books (“Corporate Circles” and “One Circle”) explaining the importance of safety in helping resolve conflict and build trusting teams. ”Safety First” I say, then brainstorm away.

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