Step away from that flipchart! Does group brainstorming kill creativity?

Alex Osborn popularized brainstorming in 1953. The process has been widely misused ever since.

Researchers from Texas A&M University recently published the results of three experiments demonstrating that group brainstorming exercises can actually reduce, rather than enhance, creativity, due to “fixation.”

Collaborative Fixation: Effects of Others’ Ideas on Brainstorming,” published in the April 2010 issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology revealed new findings that “exchanging ideas in a group leads members to become fixated on their peers’ ideas, thus reducing the number of categories explored.”

Brainstorming discussions can still be very beneficial, especially when participants are urged to build upon, combine and otherwise improve ideas.  The next time your team is considering a brainstorming session, authors Nicholas Kohn and Steven Smith suggest a few evidence-based best practices:

• Prepare Anonymously. Participants submit written ideas well in advance of the meeting, with no names or titles associated.  This allows individuals to spend time gathering their thoughts, and allows the group to focus on a wider array of contributed ideas, regardless of whether the initiator is the boss or a new employee.

• Test ‘em. Informing the participants that there will be a memory test of all ideas at the conclusion results in an increase in demonstrated listening skills.

• Break Time! The third experiment in this study showed that taking a few minutes to relax during the discussion portion reduced the fixation factor.

So put down your dry erase marker and take a deep breath. What brainstorming best practices can you suggest?

Posted in Creativity

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