Brainstorming was invented by an American Advertising guru named Alex Osborn.
He wrote extensively about his new idea generation tool in a book called Applied Imagination way back in 1957.
The tool has many advantages — it is simple, popular, easy to learn, it is fun and feels creative.
There is one drawback however.
For the most part it doesn’t work.
As professor Keith Sawyer notes, ‘Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.’
So what causes the shortfall between the promise of brainstorming and its reality?
There are a number of reasons for this deficit:
- Social loafing i.e. individuals give less effort in a group
- Social Matching i.e. a tendency to conform to others peers
- Evaluation anxiety i.e. concerns about wild ideas being judged harshly and
- Fixation i.e. the group becomes focussed on a single, dominant idea.
But according to research the biggest barrier to brainstorming productivity is:
This is where group members have to take turns in expressing their ideas.
The problem is that group members cannot express their ideas exactly when they want to.
This can lead to lost ideas (i.e. forgetting them) or cognitive overload (i.e. trying to remember your ideas whilst keeping track of the conversation).
Hence to improve your brainstorming performance the single best action you can take is to allow people to express their ideas when they wish.
That is why with our new Ideas Blitz tool we start with the individual trying to generate 9 new ideas or solutions in two minutes. Then move on to working with a partner then the group.
In this way everyone contributes in their own time without waiting for their turn.
Try it particularly when you are trying to develop new product concepts for example — you will be amazed at your results.