The Work Experience

In defense of (well facilitated) brainstorming

In the previous post on this blog I pointed to an article which amongst other things was critical of brainstorming as an idea generation technique. This article was from the NY Times. It seems groupwork, derided by the moniker groupthink is under fire on other fronts with another article in the New Yorker.  this came to my attention via Bob Sutton, a Professor of Management who wrote a response.“Why the Sharp Distinction Between “Individual” and “Group” Brainstorming is False in Real Teams”.

He writes:

I wrote a post earlier in the week about how the claim in The New Yorker that brainstorming “doesn’t work” is an oversimplification.  I gave various reasons:  Most of this research is done with novices rather than skilled brainstormers, only looks at one measure (quantity), and ignores how brainstorming is done and the impact it has in real organizations.  As I have been thinking about this research a bit more and of the brainstorming that Andy Hargadon and I studied at IDEO years ago, that I see at the Stanford, and especially, that I’ve seen in recent weeks in some very skilled groups I have seen in action, something struck me:

The comparison between group and individual brainstorming that underlines this research is false, or at least irrelevant, because both happen at once when skilled practioners do it.

When a skilled facilitator calls a brainstorm, he or she usually gives the topic in advance and asks members of the group to do some individual thinking about it before the gathering

So the lesson it seems is, set some homework for participants before the brainstorming session. Read the rest of Sutton’s post, including an intriguing desciption of a group session on the itchless haircut at IDEO here: