How Brainstorming Clouds the Creative Process

BrainstormingHave a problem that you need to solve? Gather your team and brainstorm a solution!

Conventional wisdom tells us that two heads are better than one when coming up with ideas to solve a problem, but it might be a good idea to stop and rethink that strategy. Brainstorming, while so often used in offices across the world, may actually be less productive and produce lower quality ideas. When looking for a solution, the focus should really be on quality, not quantity of ideas.

Jonathan Becher, the Chief Marketing Officer of SAP, probes this issue and asks the question in a recent blog post titled, “Is Brainstorming Dead?:

Group brainstorming sessions might produce a higher volume of ideas than a single person would but groups don’t produce higher quality ideas. A small number of people often dominate the conversation and group think almost always happens as a result of peer pressure.  In my experience, the most creative ideas have come from individuals working alone.

And as it turns out, science backs him up in this case. “More than a dozen research studies show that individuals perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and the performance of brainstorming groups gets worse as size increases.”

Quality Over Quantity

So what can one do to generate quality ideas? There are a number of different ways to get your brain juice pumping to come up with new solutions.

Break thought patterns. It’s all about seeing things from a different point of view than you usually do. Challenge the assumptions you keep on a regular basis. Try rewording the problem at hand to give yourself a fresh perspective. Express yourself through different media. If you’re on a computer all day, try writing your ideas out on paper to see if the different medium helps.

Map it out. Mind maps are an excellent tool to visualize solutions and see how different areas relate to one another. They can help you see connections that you might not have known even existed.

Ask for someone else’s opinion. While brainstorming in groups might not be the most efficient way of generating ideas, it never hurts to get valuable feedback from a trusted colleague in order to improve the idea you’re working on.

Keep away from distractions. Peace and quiet is essential for the deep state of thought that it takes to generate new solutions. Move to a quiet place and avoid places where you’ll likely run into a friend who can take your focus off the task at hand.

Even though group brainstorming might not be the silver bullet we once thought it might be, individuals have the power to come up with killer ideas that will outpace what groupthink can produce.