For many people, brainstorming seems to be a largely useless pursuit—meandering sessions, filled with bad ideas, rammed down your throat by a loud mouth who should have stayed in his cubicle. Brainstorming also seemed to be used during times of panic: the “what the heck are we going to do, the deadline is tomorrow” kind of brainstorming. Painful.
I, too, used to be in the anti-brainstorming camp. I now know that those frustrating, unproductive sessions were just poorly conceived and poorly run. Unfortunately, this is the experience some people have with brainstorming. This makes me sad.
Marc Andreeson, in his post Why brainstorming is a bad idea posted a nice quote from the Medici Effect demonstrating that teams using brainstorming techniques were often less effective at generating ideas than people working on the same problem in different rooms. The quoted study looked at both quality and quantity of ideas.
I’m with Scott Berkun (In defense of brainstorming) on this, though. While it may be true that many times—even the vast majority of times—group brainstorming sessions fail to produce useful results, poor facilitation, lack of focus, inappropriate choice of method, and poor team dynamics lead to most of those failures. (This is why we have sessions at UX Week on facilitation, team building, and collective creativity…)
At Adaptive Path, we use a variety of idea generation methods. From loose and fast brainstorming to highly structured idea generation sessions with clients to impromptu problem solving sessions, we sometimes get great ideas out of the group and sometimes not. The key, though, is that we regularly use these techniques — we practice, we learn, we fail, we try it again.