The Brainstorming Myth
February 21, 2012 10:00 PM Subscribe
posted by storybored (63 comments total)
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"The thing that distinguishes brainstorming from other types of group activity is the absence of criticism and negative feedback. If people were worried that their ideas might be ridiculed by the group, the process would fail." According to the technique's originator, Alex Osborn, "“Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it in the bud.'" Brainstorming seems like a marvellous, feel-good way of creative problem-solving. But it doesn’t work.
The article goes beyond an examination of brainstorming with an interesting discussion on the real factors that make groups successful.
One example: something called the Q Factor measures the social cohesiveness of a group, how well the members know each other. In his study of Broadway musicals, Brian Uzzi found that "the relationships among collaborators emerged as a reliable predictor of Broadway success. When the Q was low—less than 1.7 on Uzzi's five-point scale—the musicals were likely to fail. Because the artists didn’t know one another, they struggled to work together and exchange ideas...But, when the Q was too high (above 3.2), the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation. According to Uzzi, this is what happened on Broadway during the nineteen-twenties, which he made the focus of a separate study. The decade is remembered for its glittering array of talent—Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, and so on—but Uzzi’s data reveals that ninety per cent of musicals produced during the decade were flops, far above the historical norm."
Another example, (and bad news for online collaborators), physical proximity seems to matter. "Isaac Kohane, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, looked at scientific research conducted by groups to determine the effect that physical proximity had on the quality of the research. He analyzed more than thirty-five thousand peer-reviewed papers, mapping the precise location of co-authors. Then he assessed the quality of the research by counting the number of subsequent citations....the correlation became clear: when coauthors were closer together, their papers tended to be of significantly higher quality. The best research was consistently produced when scientists were working within ten metres of each other; the least cited papers tended to emerge from collaborators who were a kilometre or more apart.
Steve Jobs intuitively realized the importance of getting people to rub elbows, with interesting ramifications for the design of Pixar's headquarters:
Jobs soon realized that it wasn’t enough simply to create an airy atrium; he needed to force people to go there. He began with the mailboxes, which he shifted to the lobby. Then he moved the meeting rooms to the center of the building, followed by the cafeteria, the coffee bar, and the gift shop. Finally, he decided that the atrium should contain the only set of bathrooms in the entire building.