Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Brainstorm in a Teacup?

In the Gym this morning I was reading an article in the New Yorker called Groupthink, the Brainstorming Myth. In this article (sadly it's behind their subscription paywall) they basically say that research has shown that people come up with more ideas working alone than when brainstorming together. They even quote one of my favorite authors Keith Sawyer to prove their point.  Now I can't say for sure but I suspect that they may have taken the quote a bit out of context. Keith is a HUGE supporter of the concepts of group creativity. He recently wrote a blog post defending group creativity from an article in the New York Times.
In the article they talked about an experiment where they had 3 groups try and come up with solutions to a problem.
Group 1 worked individually
Group 2 were told to brainstorm using the classic 'no criticism' rule
Group 3 were told to brainstorm and told that they were allowed to argue about the ideas.

This struck me not as an issue about if brainstorming works but more an issue of how people DO brainstorming. As an improviser I am wedded to the Yes-And concept. It's how we create the reality of a scene. As an Applied Improviser, I am wedded to the same concept. It's how we tap into the the ideas of others to move something forward.  In improv there is a structure to how a game is played or a show is put together. People learn about those structures and learn to play within them (and sometimes just outside them). When you go to an improv class it's the structures that you learn and practice. If you are part of an Applied Improvisation experience, you will likely be given some structure to work within.

If you are only told half of the rules or given half of the structure you are going to try your best to work within that but you are not likely to get as far as if you are told all of them.

The classic Osborn-Parnes Creative Problems Solving process is just that, a process. It has a divergent step that is meant to generate lots of ideas and then a convergent step that is meant to look at the ideas critically to see which have the most merit. If you only teach people about the first part then it's no surprise that they don't do the second part well if at all. And it's no surprise that following half the process is less useful than not following it at all.

If you want people to get the most out of well established and hugely productive process, then make sure they know the WHOLE process. They might have to learn about the process before they start it.

Happy Learning

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