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Why you should quit brainstorming today and embrace creative collaboration

19 December 2018

Posted By artgym

Let’s end the addiction to brainstorming, today. Brainstorming is not (usually) the magic pixie dust that spontaneously generates creative, innovative ideas that transforms businesses. Teams need to collaborate creatively and there are five good arguments – the five Cs – why brainstorming doesn’t deliver that: 1. curiosity; 2. controversy; 3. courage; 4. complexity; and 5. craftsmanship.

“Having extensively researched what drives creativity in business for over a decade, I can confidently proclaim that most brainstorms and creative workshops inhibit creativity more than they enable it,” says Eugene Hughes, Artgym CEO in his article Five Reasons to Ban Brainstorms.

This is not as controversial as it may sound. For 60 years – yes the first empirical test of brainstorming was in 1958 at Yale University – research studies have found that Brainstorming sessions do not deliver an abundance of fantastic ideas – often, the opposite is the case. However in the right environment, with the right skills to unlock it, groups can and will collaborate very creatively and effectively.

“Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas,” declares Dr. R. Keith Sawyer, a professor of education at the University of North Carolina, in his 2007 book Group Genius.

The origins of brainstorming

But first let’s address the elephant in the room.

So what is it about brainstorming that has proved so enduring addictive to managers and team leaders when faced with need for new ideas?

The pioneer of brainstorming was Alex Osborn, a partner in the advertising agency B.B.D.O. His 1948 book “Your Creative Power” described how he would amass of squad of admen to storm a creative problem ‘commando’ style by spontaneously firing in ideas.

You can understand why that sounds compelling.

The problem is what works for a group of the some of the most creative, innovative, self-assured and highly paid people on Madison Avenue in the 1940s, isn’t necessarily going to work with a group of mere mortals, unaccustomed to creative thinking, in your business 70 years later.

Why brainstorming does not deliver creative collaboration

In the real world, with teams of real people, leaders can facilitate and foster collaboration in a more creative, effective, productive, engaging and inclusive manner, than unbridled brainstorming sessions can.

“For Team Leaders to master the art of creative collaboration they must stop relying on time-boxed, extrovert-biased idea factories and start nurturing working cultures where creative collaboration can flourish,” explains Eugene Hughes.

“The brain is a social organ, thriving through connection and challenge from other brains. When done well, creative collaboration fuels innovation, transformation and growth, enabling businesses to continuously innovate at the relentless speed consumers demands. But it requires a far more sophisticated and skilful approach than brainstorms,” he adds.

Unlocking this creativity requires a leader or facilitator with a special skill set. One which the accredited graduates of Artgym Academy Creative Collaboration diploma course possess.


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The five Cs: Five good reasons brainstorming does not deliver creative collaboration

There are five reasons, says Eugene Hughes, that team leaders should quit brainstorms and start mastering the art of creative collaboration:

Curiosity

Creativity cannot be boiled down to a set of techniques, as claimed in many business books. It is a way of being: a way of engaging with the world through an obsessive curiosity and sense of wonder. Without curiosity, ideas are stale. Neurologically, curiosity is triggered through external sensory stimuli. As Neuroscientist Louis Cozolino asserts, the mind, the brain and the body are interwoven.

But in the whirlwind of brainstorms and workshops, the focus is cognitive ideation with limited space and stimuli for curiosity and wonder. So rather than pushing people to ideate in sterile settings, Team Leaders must create working environments that encourage and stimulate curiosity. A sense of awe inspires brilliance far more than a pressure cooker situation.

Controversy

Creativity requires originality of thought. Originality comes from the edges, the fringes, and the unexpected. It is different to, and goes against the current grain. It is controversial. Just think of great art, at first it shocks and then takes time to be understood and appreciated by others. In fact, initial resistance is often a sign of originality.

In brainstorms and workshops, too often a great idea can easily be dismissed or misunderstood by the group: a genuine piece of brilliance lost on a discarded post-it note. Unfortunately, consensus is valued over controversy. Team Leaders need to flip this and start to encourage controversy over consensus.

Courage

Innovation takes courage. And in organisations it requires collective courage. There is extensive research to show how power dynamics in groups leads to ‘group think’, silencing voices of difference and discontent. ‘Beware the nice team’ where everyone agrees but nothing truly brilliant ever gets achieved. Critical dialogue should be celebrated and not restricted to a fixed space and time. Team Leaders need to find ways to stir the pot by encouraging constructive debate at the same time as making it feel safe and comfortable for everyone to speak out.

Complexity

Everyone’s creative process is unique. Although there are common characteristics, it is impossible to group people’s creativity into one linear process. Collective creativity is far more complex than that. Business doesn’t like this and would prefer to make it simple. But expecting to enter a brainstorm with everyone at the same point in their creative process and hope for brilliant ideas to emerge is at best a high-risk strategy, at worst delusional. Different things work for different people and it’s the same with teams. Team Leaders need to work with their team to experiment with multiple approaches to ignite the teams’ collective creativity and find what works for them.

Craftsmanship

Creativity is far more than just ideation. Consider a world where Michelangelo didn’t bother to sculpt his imaginings into reality. So why do we box the creative process into brainstorms and workshops when we need to apply creativity in every aspect of our work. Even pealing a potato can be a creative act, if you embrace it in that way. Lots of ‘small c’ creativity can make a big difference to team performance. Encourage your team to apply their creativity in everything they do, not just the products and services you provide, the processes and systems you use but also the way you work together, the way you think, behave and communicate together.


If you want to learn how to unlocking the creativity of groups, consider the Artgym Academy Advanced Diploma in Facilitating Creative Collaboration, the first fully accredited qualification for leaders of creative collaboration.


The header photo is by Original photo Easter Island by Arian Zwegers via Flickr. The speech bubbles and words were added by Artgym.

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