Why has brainstorming gathered such a relentless force behind it as a problem solving and creative juice flow panacea? I recently blogged about findings that show it to be misleading in its impact.
I’ve heard all sorts of comedy terms applied to the practice in my time. Each intended to undermine the activity. Their inventors must have been on to something. In my early work days I heard such sessions referred to as a ‘Quaker’s Prayer Meeting’. This was 1992 and was not meant as endorsement. It signified that nobody would pipe up. As urban dictionary puts it in unusually delicate terms for them, silence is all you get. ‘Let’s imagineer’ was a dotcom call to brainstorm. Closely followed by the allied urge to adopt ‘blue sky thinking’ and more lately, to take an ‘idea shower’.
Here’s Seth Godin’s take on it.
Brainstorming doesn’t work so well, because most people are bad at it. They’re bad at it because their lizard brain takes over moments before a big idea is uttered. “Oh no!” it says, “I better not say that because if I do, then I’ll have to do it.” And so brainstorming quickly becomes clever stalling and timewasting.
Instead, he argues for an approach which appears a smiling relative of James Dyson’s inverse, wrong-thinking.
Far better is to practice edgegraft. Someone announces a direction (“we’ll be really convenient, we’ll offer our menu by fax,”) and then the next person goes closer to that edge, topping it, (“we’ll offer it by email!”) and so on, each topping the other in any particular direction. (from the book Free Prize Inside).
Wrong thinking, edgecraft, ‘o-oh’, I can here you sigh. But wait a minute. If brainstorming has such a bad rep, then how about utilising a basket of these alternatives in its place?
Consider the potential of constructing an event where you spend a quick-fire ten-minutes pursuing each method. You can even get funky and pretend to be another set of thinkers. Picture the japes if you assumed the thought patterns of your friendliest in-house rival team, or indeed, your most evil competitor… and the results you might unleash.