Why Brainstorming Rarely Works

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It seems counter-intuitive, but group brainstorming won't generate the highest quality or even quantity of ideas.

Since the 1950's, managers have been encouraging employees to use brainstorming sessions as a tool to generate innovative ideas or unique solutions. The time, however, has come to usher "brainstorming" into the 21st century, especially as research indicates that group brainstorming meetings can be less than effective when it comes to producing high quality (or even quantity) of new ideas. 

Taking that a step further is Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan Assessments and professor of Business Psychology at University College London.  In an article for the Harvard Business Review "Why Group Brainstorming Is a Waste of Time," he wrote, "A meta-analytic review of over 800 teams indicated that individuals are more likely to generate a higher number of original ideas when they don’t interact with others."

Diving into that idea further, Chamorro-Premuzic told Money Talking host Charlie Herman that research shows that, "70 percent of people perform better when they're not in front of people."

The reason, he said, comes down to four problems with group brainstorming sessions. 

  1. Oral responses: Brainstorming usually includes oral responses where the louder voices in the group dominate the session and the timid voices don't contribute as much.
  2. Social Loafing: In groups, people feel less inclined to volunteer ideas if they know that someone else is already doing that. 
  3. Social anxiety: Some people may not feel brave enough to share their ideas in the pack.
  4. Regression to the mean: Some people downgra de their level of performance to the average level of performance. 

So what should you do instead?

Chamorro-Premuzic suggests brainstorming remotely using digital means to communicate with one another or to work alone or in silence where everyone takes time to write down their ideas and then as a group, review them.

[Click on "Listen" to hear more of Chamorro-Premuzic's explanation for why brainstorming became so popular, as well as his advice for how to develop more creative ideas at work — and they really do work.]

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