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Dimis Michaelides

It seems to me that there are two issues.

FIRST ISSUE: TEAM vs INDIVIDUAL creativity. To argue that it's one or the other is clearly nonsensical. Life in an organization, including its capacity to create and innovate, is never a solo act. It is true that individuals working in solitary mode come up with great breakthrough ideas and it is true that teams are often highly uncreative and dysfunctional. The opposite is also true: individuals alone can be uncreative or get stuck and teams can produce highly creative outcomes. It is our responsibility to work out when and how we can get the best out of solo AND group creativity.

SECOND ISSUE: BRAINSTORMING vs OTHER TEAM METHODS/TECHNIQUES? The originator of brainstorming (a team technique) realized that creative thinking and critical thinking are different and that both are indispensable but they do not work well when practiced simultaneously. He also argued passionately that challenges have to be well-defined before they are resolved and confronted with concrete actions. Skilful brainstorming is the mother of all techniques and great for team building and its principles are very well founded. Complemented by other tools and techniques its power can be enhanced and become quite formidable, adding immense value to the creative confrontation of challenges in organizations.

John Wren

I've been leading brainstorming sessions each week for nearly 20 years. Results vary from session to session, but I know the technique works and am very glad to have found this blog post after receiving a review copy of Lehrer's new book and the release headlined with "Who wouldn't love a book that validates what cubicle workers already know: Brainstorming meetings are a waste of time." USA Today. I've just posted link on and would welcome comments there.


"A key part of face-to-face brainstorming is building on and combining the ideas of others." Yes, but I think there is something even more interesting mentioned by Geoff,
"the extraordinary success of open source software development is attributed to a kind of brainstorming".
Kind of brainstorming. One of the bauties of this type of brainstorm is in fact most people are working in a group and alone at the same time but continuously over a large timespan which allows the subconscious to mull over problems which the enclosed space and and time method doesn't allow for.
I would agree that it takes a type of training and the right team, etc. etc. to get a good result which is why, when you add up the number of hours of human resources etc. not just the event, but also the planning, and how long it can take to get the right people all to merge together at the right time, I have come to the conclusion (14 years later), that it's more important/effective to fast track problems to the individuals who can actually solve the problem and be done with it.

Karen Burgess

I read the article carefully and thought it was very interesting. I particularly wondered about the headline - nowhere in the article, that I could note, did the authors discuss Groupthink. Groupthink is bad, but it's not linked to brainstorming, in fact it's the result of a premature rush to agreement that is the antithesis to getting as many ideas out on the table! I also note that brainstorming seems to be reserved for the design or problem-solving process. I've been in groups that use brainstorming very effectively for creative communications. Coming up with taglines, campaign themes, etc., works very well when the goal is to generate 100 related thoughts so that you can come up with five themes that have resonance.


Bob, thanks for an excellent post! I've found myself making the very same points to a variety of people over the past week.

As you say, what the studies cited prove that brainstorming doesn't work - when it's done badly. You mention that those studied had no training. In fact, in our work at SmartStorming, with well over 1,000 people from a range of backgrounds, we have learned that more than 90% of the people leading group ideation sessions have had NO training whatsoever in how to do it effectively.

They are generally unaware of any of the necessary planning requirements, process, leadership skills - and utilize no ideation techniques of any kind.

(By the way, I should point out that I am using the term "brainstorming" here as it is commonly used today - to describe any group idea generation session, not just one that uses Osborn's specific technique and guidance.)

Of course, there have been other studies that show, when best practices are applied, brainstorms are quite effective. (And certainly our own experience, yours and IDEO's, and that of our clients, supports this.) The most recent I'm aware of was done at North Carolina State University in 2010. See...

So in the spirit of not throwing out the baby with the bath water, I encourage those truly interested in being more effective at generating and developing more and better ideas - learn how to do it the right way!

(I just want to add that we have great respect for the work done by Tom Kelley and IDEO!)

Keith Harmeyer

Geoff Morton-Haworth (@geoffreymh)

"The Rise of the New Groupthink" cites Steve Wozniak of Apple to demonstrate the importance of solo work. But for every catchy example taken out of context to make a point there are usually a dozen others with the opposite interpretation.

For example, again in the computing field, the extraordinary success of open source software development is attributed to a kind of brainstorming. This is the proposition that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" so that the more widely available the source code is for public testing, scrutiny, and experimentation, the more rapidly all forms of bugs will be discovered. See

"Semantic differential" is an important notion in the study of human intelligence. You can measure the depth of your understanding – and to say it bluntly, your intelligence – by the number of points of view you apply when you consider something or someone.

And the same can apply to the collective intelligence of a group. The key to creative dialogue is to strive for mutual understanding (walking around in each other's shoes for a while) and not to push for consensus.

Bob Sutton

Thanks Bard

Brad Evans

"Brian" Uzzi.


Group brainstorming happens b/c time has been set aside for it. Co's or employees need to set aside time for individual ideation.

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