The article suggests that brainstorming was invalid all along, but it's more fair to say that it had a time and place. Society and business have evolved towards equality and inclusiveness, so the no-criticism rule is less important.
Perhaps a stronger argument along the same lines is that in a business setting anything that breaks away from the highly dysfunctional mechanics of many business meetings (which are not purely due to hierarchy) has to be a Good Thing.
This matches both my experience and what my girlfriend was taught concerning how to conduct brainstorm sessions, which includes the variation of first having everyone brainstorm alone, then combining and grouping the outcomes and then evaluating the outcome.
This. A thousand times this.
I find the biggest common issue with brainstorming is that you end up with an incoherent amalgamation of things that people think are individually important. People have a hard time evaluating options unless they are part of a coherent whole. Brainstorming beforehand, alone, allows them to figure out what's important and then imagine a coherent story around that thought. Otherwise you end up with solutions that technically contain individual important details but make no coherent sense as a whole. It's like saying "well, Suzie like dragons and Jimmy like potatoes so we put them together in a story." If Suzie had brainstormed before she could propose a backstory and context that the group finds more compelling than Jimmy's context about potatoes and they could have a more fruitful discussion than "I don't like potatoes," or "Dragons are dangerous."
Edit: Now that I think about it, this might be at the core of what the article describes as the optimum collaborative environment for innovating - people who exist separately and have their own coherent problems and solutions to worry about such that when combined they lead to even more innovative solutions for problems they didn't initially realize had any overlap.
This would be called "thinking" by most people wouldn't it?
Calling it a variation rather than the complete opposite approach seems like people just like the word brainstorming.
Your conclusion is if you decide to call whatever works "brainstorming" then brainstorming works. If you study the specific technique that has been called brainstorming for decades it doesn't work. Like the title says.
Brainstorming let's you freely associate by postponing your own judgement. It gets you into corners of your mind you wouldn't visit if you were actively trying to solve the problem. Of course that is also a way of 'thinking': the point is that you get into a different mindset and think in different ways.
I only really hear it used when it's a done as a group activity.
* Do a short exercise to prime everyone to 'let go of their default mindset' (you can leave this out if everyone is experienced in doing this, although it should usually be fun)
* Have everyone put their own ideas to paper, within a reasonable amount of time, while together in the same room, but without communicating about them
* Together, group the results: determine overlaps and outliers.
* Then discuss the results together
In the last phase, the first exercise and the resulting mindset still has some effect: people will be less protective of their specific ideas, because of the mindset that generated them, which can easily be blamed for 'silly' ideas. Some outliers can therefore be dismissed easily. On the other hand, people will more seriously consider ideas they might otherwise have dismissed as 'silly' right after they were uttered. Some outliers may prove to be very valuable and a group brainstorm wouldn't have resulted in them.
Brainstorming, as I understand the term, is used to describe this entire process of idea generation and evaluation. Not just the phase/mindset when generating ideas and not just when that happens in a group together. Perhaps this school of thought is more regionally limited than I know and this is indeed not generally known as 'brainstorming'.
That said, in my experience the quality of a brainstorm session depends a lot on who are participating and/or who is facilitating. I find brainstorming works well when the problem space is clearly defined and people with different functions or backgrounds participate. As the article says on the interaction between Chomsky and Halle: “We became great friends,” Halle says. “And friends shouldn’t be shy about telling each other when they are wrong. What am I supposed to do? Not tell him he’s got a bad idea?” For this to work, people shouldn't be afraid to tell each other things that can be shot down. For friends this is natural, but for random people put together in a team it often isn't.
In a way I think brainstorming is a way to simulate the sort of discussion that would take place in a group that the article refers to as having a high Q. This means both feeling free to give your opinion, but also leaving room for discussion. Maybe brainstorming focuses a little too much on the former, though in my experience a good facilitator will also stimulate discussion. Personally I'm planning to look into the 'debating' technique the article describes as well.
That's not what I got out of it at all. In the U.C. Berkeley experiment, simply giving the same number of people the suggestion to "debate" caused them to have far more ideas, in the same amount of time. Brainstorming doesn't have people interact more -- it has people interact in a specific way (no criticism), even though that has since been shown to actually be harmful to developing ideas. It's not to save time.
Perhaps communities that are quick to kick out oddballs/trolls may reduce noise and distraction. However, by eliminating dissent and criticism, even invalid dissent, this newyorker article suggests that the community also might be harming creativity of comments by remaining members. Eventually creativity becomes so low that the forum members get fed up with the monotony and leave, and the forum dies?
A hundred terrible ideas would drown out a few good ideas, but a positive number of horribly wrong or even offensive ideas might be optimal for generating the most good ideas.
This is one reason why it's important to be prejudiced in favor of tolerating dissent. Wait until substantially after it seems to you justified in ejecting a member from the group, before actually ejecting. If you get rid of the old outliers, the group position will shift, and someone else will become the oddball.
Wise words indeed.
At workplaces, recruiting, self-selection, market forces, and management have all changed the group composition and motivations significantly.
I fail to understand how voting for stuff (which is basically the dictatorship of the mainstream opinion) is going to get the most creative solutions on the table. That defeats the whole purpose, and makes brainstorming fail to deliver on its promises.
Accomplished several fairly large projects this way. I think it works because even though people aren't necessarily brain storming for their section, they can bring valuable insight to the person who has to do the writing.
However, the "intermediate Q proximity" idea is definitely spot on.
Something about knowing that people in the group disagree with some idea that's presented, and the reasons why they disagree, might be more important for improving your creativity than your own isolated assessment that an idea you heard is wrong.
On-topic: these are the kinds of results from psychology that most people here should hopefully know already.
Guess I should just tell dozens of people that the years of frequent brainstorming we've engaged in has been a complete waste of time. Science says so!