• Skills and Practice Make Brainstorming Useful

    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.

    There are 5 thoughts on this idea

    1. Jay Hamilton-Roth

      The problem with most group brainstorming sessions is that they don’t have strong facilitation. They are dominated by the most vocal people and are fast-paced. People don’t spend enough time listening (to each other and to their inner guidance). Having a number of different tools to innovate your business ideas is good. Make sure that you also allocate sufficient time for introspection.

    2. Garth Walker

      I posted a follow-up to try to clarify why brainstorming sucks, and I hope it doesn’t make you too sad… But seriously I think its an interesting discussion, and I think the truth might be that its a matter of preference and individuals. We all learn, think and create in our own ways, and the fact that we can’t agree on how to do it best is proof of that.


    3. Julia Styles

      I also believe group brainstorming can be useful. Whether you are brainstorming on your own or with a group, Quantity should be your goal. You can analyze the ideas after the brainstorm and decide which are the best. You will find that quantity leads to quality. For more tips on brainstorming visit http://brainreactions.blogspot.com/2007/07/generate-1000-ideas-trust-me-you-can-do.html

      If you are interested in using virtual tools for brainstorming, why not try http://www.brainreactions.net–a social networking site for brainstorms.

    4. Patricia

      In The Medici Effect, Johannsen actually goes on to say, “So, should we all stop brainstorming? I don’t think so. Done right, brainstorming is a highly effective way to actively generate intersectional ideas.” So even Johannsen thinks it’s an effective tool.

      For a review of some more recent studies, and some other reasons why group brainstorming can be a good idea, read on:


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