Sunday, May 20, 2012

Brainstorming--who knew?

Boy, did I miss the memo on this one! Who knew?
There's just one problem with brainstorming: it doesn't work
Jonah Lehrer: "Imagine"

According to researcher Keith Sawyer of Washington University:
.... brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and then pool their ideas
Now, what's going on here? Since the 1940's, brainstorming--an invention more or less of Alex Osborn--has been touted as the way to get new ideas surfaced. The Osborn formula is famous for being non-confrontational:
  • The first rule is "no criticism"; and
  • The second rule is "everyone contributes"

But others, famously at Microsoft and Pixar, have gone the other way: everyone contributes but everyone is subject to critique and challenge. Lehrer says: "the acceptance of error reduces its cost", meaning that when you know the group will correct your errors you are less prone to avoidance.

In other words, criticism and debate is the stimulate of new ideas according to work done at UC-Berkeley by researcher Charlan Nemeth. In effect, critical inspection by others drives engagement, improvement, and innovation.

Perhaps as important is informal follow-up, is the communication by osmosis that Alistair Cockburn talks about. And, this in turn is stimulated by more open spaces and areas for informal collaboration.

In any event, to return to the top, it's not that brainstorming doesn't work, it's that the Osborne formulation of "lets all be friends" doesn't get the stuff out.

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