What Is Brainstorming REALLY, and Does It Work?

Are brainstorming groups or individuals more creative?

Posted Aug 17, 2011

Most people have heard of (or used) brainstorming techniques to generate creative ideas and many believe that it was created by psychologists or decision scientists. However, brainstorming was the brainchild of an advertising executive in the 1950s.

Since its invention, brainstorming has become very popular and there are tremendous claims about the technique's success. Unfortunately, research has suggested that brainstorming may not be very effective, and that individuals actually perform as well, or better, than brainstorming groups.

Brainstorming typically involves groups of 6 to 10 members throwing out ideas in a non-critical and nonjudgmental atmosphere, trying to generate as many ideas as possible. The basic rules are: (a) no idea is too far out; (b) no criticism of ideas is allowed; (c) the more ideas the better, and (d) members should build on one another's ideas.

Over 40 years of research on brainstorming suggests that the technique is not as effective as its proponents claim. The problem is that despite the ground rules, group dynamics are too powerful and the creativity of people in the brainstorming groups is often inhibited. For example, members become embarrassed and inhibited, others may engage in "free-riding" and not contribute to idea generation. The research suggests that individuals are equal to or better than brainstorming groups in generating creative ideas.

What is interesting, however, is that members of brainstorming groups firmly believe that the group brainstorming is more productive than individual brainstorming. The moral is that just because a technique is popular, or sounds logical, research needs to be done to determine the technique's effectiveness.

References

Paulus, Paul B.; Dzindolet, Mary T.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 64(4), Apr 1993, 575-586. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.64.4.575

Furnham, Adrian (2000). The brainstorming Myth. Business Strategy Review

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