Brainstorming Pros and Cons

Mar 21, 2012

There’s a running dispute about brainstorming and creativity. And it’s not insignificant because creativity - whether in science or marketing - is the economic motor of the world. 

The fulcrum of the debate is a book entitled Your Creative Power by Alex Osborn, the ‘O’ of the famous ad agency BBD&O.  Osborn preached a religion of group brainstorming. The key to which, he said, is the absence of criticism or negative feedback among participants.

He believed criticism among peers inhibits full participation. The first outside test of his theory completely refuted Osborn. Subsequent tests had the same result.

One such test of millions of patents and academic papers concluded that the ineffectiveness of brainstorming stems from the very thing Osborn thought most important. That debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas. They stimulate ideas.

In other words, enough people with different perspectives running into each other in unpredictable ways produce positive results. After 50 years of so-called creative pursuits I couldn’t agree more. Individuals create. Groups do not.

The real value in group-think is a group’s ability to refine an idea of an individual through effective criticism.


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