Brainstorming: Yay or Nay?

Posted 05.21.18 by Spyglass

The old axiom claims that there are no bad ideas… but anyone who’s been in a brainstorming session knows that’s just not true. Since cavemen first sketched on walls, humans have been capturing concepts and exploring possibilities on vertical surfaces.

Certainly in creative agencies, brainstorming is a time-tested way to generate new solutions to thorny problems. Yet as a discipline, it’s typically undisciplined at best.

“Brainstorming is Worthless,” provocatively proclaims a recent article in Inc. “What a brainstorm session should be is a place to challenge the ideas that have already been vetted,” rants author Nicolas Cole. “Not a free-for-all breakout session where anything and everything goes.” Cole thinks it’s a waste of time to have a group noodling together and tossing out whatever ideas happen to flow. Instead he advocates a process whereby each team member has done their own generative thinking and comes to the table with winnowed-down directions they are ready to defend.

Meanwhile, over in the Harvard Business Review, Hal Gregersen takes a thoughtful (long) view on different protocols and processes and advocates a “better brainstorming” approach that he claims yields the most fruitful futures. Interestingly, over 20 years of practice, he has observed that “the people least likely to engage in the exercise and follow the rules are the folks with the highest positions or greatest technical expertise… who cripple the truth-seeking capability of the entire group.” He emphasizes the importance of organizational culture in creating environments conducive to truly meaningful brainstorming. “Leaders must show humility, vulnerability and trust, and they must empower others and treat them equitably.” Sounds like a recipe for all kinds of transformation and growth!

Here at Spyglass, we’re evolving our collaborative creative process (see our Be the Change post) and have experienced the direct benefits of using a more structured, inclusive and nimble approach. We’d love to show you.

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