We’ve all been through brainstorming sessions when the moderator says something like: “there are no bad ideas; just say whatever comes into your head and don’t censor anything.” I was shocked to read a sidebar article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in Newsweek (July 19, 2010 issue) that debunked brainstorming as an effective tool. The practice became popular in 1953 through the book Applied Imagination, but was proven not to work by 1958.
So why do we keep using a technique that actually reduces a team’s creative output? Yale researchers have found that a group can actually come up with a larger number and more creative ideas as individuals working alone versus working in a group.
My theory is that our decades-long insistence on improving our work environment through team-building and collaborating is over-shadowing the reality of what really works to develop creative solutions. Michael Mumford (a professor at the University of Oklahoma) goes further and terms commerical creativity training “garbage.”
So what does work? I’m quoting almost verbatim from the Bronson and Merryman Newsweek article on 7 ideas that can be used to to foster creativity:
1. Do something that only you could come up with–that none of your friends or family would think of. Rather than telling someone to be creative, ask them to be more individualistic. Creative response doubles.
2. Spend less time in front of the TV. For each hour kids watch television, their time devoted to creative activities drops 11%.
3. Exercise, exercise, exercise. A boost from 30 minutes of any type of exercise improves almost every aspect of cognition–including creativity. The boost lasts for at least two hours after exercise.
4. Follow your passion–single-mindedly. Being a dilettante might be great for cocktail conversation, but a person who develops deep passions at the expense of being well-rounded, has better discipline and handles setbacks more easily.
5. Ditch the Suggestion Box. Formalized programs designed to elicit suggestions stifle creativity because employees feel their ideas get lost in bureaucracy. Instead, help employees put those suggestions into practice.
6. Be a Switch Hitter. If you’re working on multiple projects and a solution is eluding you, switch to another project. You’ll be more productive and more creative.
7. Explore other cultures. In my previous blog post, I made the case for traveling as a way to see other people’s points-of-view and open your own mind to possibility. When cross-cultural experiences cause people to be more flexible and adapt, creativity is heightened. Even watching a slide show worked on test subjects, so if you can’t afford a foreign vacation, watch a travel program–just don’t sit in front of the TV too long or you’ll fall victim to tip #2!
“Forget Brainstorming” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman appeared in the 7/19/10 issue of Newsweek magazine (not 7/10 as listed online). For more reading on the nation’s Creativity Crisis, click this link to read Bronson and Merryman’s main article on the Newsweek site.