Brainstorming or just a breeze?

Brainstoming is certainly one of the best-known creative techniques and is frequently used in everyday business. However, important rules of the method are often ignored and the quality of the results leaves much to be desired. Experiments have also shown that there are increasing doubts about the efficacy of the drug.
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When I ask the question about known creativity techniques in seminars, I can almost be sure that someone calls “brainstorming”. The method has established itself in many companies as an instrument of first choice when it comes to developing idea

On the one hand, brainstorming is often simply misused. Now you might think: “How am I supposed to use that wrong if it’s just about everyone throwing their ideas into the room” Well, let’s take a look at the typical mistakes:

The right application:

Alex F.Osborn, who is considered to be the inventor of the method, already established rules in the middle of the last century (yes, as long as the technique has existed) according to which brainstorming should be carried out. These are:

  • Don’t criticize!
  • The more ideas, the better!
  • Add and improve existing ideas!
  • The more unusual the idea, the better!

Osborn has already pointed out that the idea generation and idea evaluation phases must be strictly separated. The moderator (without whom it becomes difficult in brainstorming) therefore has the clear task of preventing all critical voices of the participants (even the non-verbally expressed sounds like a contemptible snort at the idea of the colleague) during the idea collection. Just observing this rule makes brainstorming much more successful.

When brainstorming does not work

Meanwhile there are a number of investigations (and also personal experiences of mine) about the fact that brainstorming does not deliver the desired results in many situations. The reasons for this are numerous:

  • the task is formulated vaguely, there is no clear goal
  • the brainstorming takes place under pressure (“We still need good ideas today”)
  • someone has the personal conviction that the method does not work (“I am not creative, this is not for me”)
  • introverted people tend to keep ideas to themselves for the time being, these ideas do not get into the brainstorming process
  • the participants have made the experience that the group has no mandate to come up with ideas (“we can have even the best ideas, they won’t be implemented anyway”)

All these things mean that the results that the group wants are not produced.

Apart from that, more and more studies doubt the effectiveness of classical brainstorming. As early as 2005, the journal Bild der Wissenschaft described, after evaluating over 50 studies, that brainstorming in a group does not produce better results than writing ideas by individuals who are independent of a group. Especially for untrained groups (e.g. people who do not have to perform creatively on a daily basis) the method often delivers only meagre results.

Alternatives to brainstorming

Still, nobody has to bury their head in the sand. There are a variety of other creativity methods that make it possible to find good ideas. A modified form of brainstorming, for example, is the headstand technique, in which I simply turn the question around and thereby free the head for other ideas. Our innovation coaches regularly achieve exciting results.

Even better: You ensure that brainstorming is used regularly in your team. The studies have also shown that brainstorming can indeed deliver excellent results – if I use it regularly and correctly and thus lateral thinking in the team becomes the standard.

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