Why brainstorming is a waste of time

Original author: Kevin Ashton
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Excerpt from the book How to Fly a Horse: A Secret History of Creativity, Inventions, and Discoveries by Kevin Ashton, www.howtoflyahorse.com

Brainstorming was invented by marketing director Alex Osborne in 1939 and was first described in 1942 in his book How to Come Up . A typical process description is from James Manktelo, founder and director of MindTools, a company promoting the process as a way to create creative solutions to business problems:

Brainstorming is often used in business to inspire teams to create original ideas. This is a meeting in which a leader indicates a task that needs to be solved. Participants then propose ideas for solutions, and develop ideas from other participants. The strict rule is not to criticize ideas. They may be insane or unacceptable. This frees people and enables them to freely create ideas and break down established patterns of thinking. Besides finding good ideas, brainstorming is also fun.

Osborne claimed that this technique worked very well. He spoke about a group of US Treasury employees who came up with 103 different ideas for selling savings bonds in 40 minutes. Corporations such as DuPont, IBM, and even the US government have adopted this technique. But by the end of the 20th century, it became almost reflexive for many organizations. No one doubts her. Everyone is brainstorming, which means it works. But is it?

Statements about the success of a technique are based on assumptions that are easy to verify. For example: groups give more ideas than individuals. Researchers from Minnesota have verified this with the help of 3M employees. Half of the tested worked in groups of 4 people, others - one by one. Then their results were summed up as if they were working in a group, throwing out duplicate ideas. In each case, the four people working alone worked out 30-40% more ideas than groups of 4 people. And the quality of the results was also better, according to the results of their evaluation by independent experts.

The next test examined whether the results were obtained in larger groups. 168 people were divided into groups of 5, 7 and 9 people, and some worked individually. And these results confirmed that single people did better than working in groups. And productivity increased as the number of people in the group decreased. Conclusion: “Group brainstorming, judging by groups of various sizes, suppresses, but does not help, creative thinking.” Groups were more easily fixed on a single idea, and often some members of the group felt pressure and barriers in the way of their creativity.

Another suggestion is that lack of criticism is better than evaluating ideas as they become available. Researchers from Indiana tested this on students, instructing them to come up with the names of three different products. Half of the groups should have refrained from criticizing him, and the other should have criticized ideas as they arrived. Independent judges evaluated the results. The group without criticism produced more ideas, but both groups gave the same amount of good ideas. The lack of criticism only allowed us to give out bad ideas. This has been confirmed by subsequent studies.

The conclusion is simple. It’s best to create alone and evaluate ideas as they become available. The worst way to create is to do it in large groups and not criticize ideas. Steve Wozniak supports this idea:

Work alone. You better manage to develop revolutionary products or new features. Not a team, not a commission.

Brainstorming does not work because it rejects conventional thinking, makes jumps instead of steps, and because it makes the assumption that giving birth to ideas is the same as creating. As a result, everyone thinks that ideas are the main thing. But Stephen King argues that the most popular question for book authors is “Where do you get ideas?”

Ideas are like seeds. Most wallows idle and do not sprout. Ideas are also rarely original. Several groups will come up with similar ideas at the same time for the same task. This limitation is not only brainstorming - it is so for any creativity. Since creativity goes in steps, not in leaps, most things are invented in several steps at a time when people go along the same path without knowing about others. Four different people discovered sun spots in 1611. Five people came up with a steamboat between 1802 and 1807. Six people invented electric railways between 1835 and 1850. Two people came up with a silicon chip in 1957. Political researchers Ogburn and Thomas, studying this phenomenon, there were 148 cases when important ideas came to different people at the same time, and concluded

Coming up with ideas doesn’t mean creating. Creativity is execution, not inspiration. Many people have ideas, but few people do anything to bring to life what they come up with.

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