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New Yorker Reports Brainstorming Doesn’t Work

I used to think that I had to overcome people’s natural reticence in order to get them to be more creative.

I suppose I thought this because I had overcome my own natural reticence in order to be more creative.


I was reinforced in this belief by the Rules of Brainstorming, which had come down to me as secular commandments. Though I started my career at BBDO, I didn’t know then that Alex Osborn, the O in Batten Barten Dursteen & Osborn, actually introduced the world to the Brainstorming session.

I also didn’t know that decades of studies have concluded that creative problems are better solved outside of traditional “no bad ideas” brainstorming sessions. So, I cheerfully harangued and pushed people out “of their comfort zones” and felt I was doing my creative duty. But, I couldn’t help noticing that breaking up our sessions and letting people work alone or in much smaller groups to write down ideas actually yielded many more good ideas!

And people instantly enjoyed themselves a lot more too. My job is to get better ideas sooner and more often, and this worked better so we threw the old rules out. Maybe, we thought, all the rules in the world won’t overcome the natural hesitancy most people have to calling out their best ideas in a group. Or maybe people get into a different mode when they sit alone or nearly alone and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

But, until now, I hadn’t seen the science. The New Yorker has published a piece that reviews the findings of several studies of brainstorming vs. alternative techniques. The common outcome is that the other techniques win.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/01/30/120130fa_fact_lehrer