The WSJ ran an article the other week about the flaws of brainstorming as a way to generate new ideas. As someone who has been formally trained in the art and science of brainstorming, and who has been a passionate practitioner of the process for over 15 years, I found the article disappointing. I’m not a brainstorming fanatic — I only use it when it’s appropriate to the task at hand, just as I wouldn’t use a baseball bat to whisk egg whites — but it rankles me when reporters don’t do their homework and write about something when they’re clueless.
And what should that homework have been? For a comprehensive and wildly entertaining rebuttal to WSJ’s argument, I must turn to my Stanford d.school colleague Bob Sutton. He points out the flaws of the WSJ article on many levels. Here’s my favorite part of his critique:
Not one one of these experimental studies on "brainstorming
performance" has ever been done in an organization where it is work
practice that is used as a routine part of the work. Paulus wrote me
some years back that he tried to recruit some "real" organizations that
did real creative work, but had no luck. To put it another way, if
these were studies of sexual performance, it would be like drawing
inferences about what happens with experienced couples on the basis of
research done only with virgins during the first time they had sex.
I’m really happy that Bob has started blogging. He brings a wise yet fresh voice to the dialog on innovation, organizations, and design thinking: www.bobsutton.net