Corporate fun: what's wrong with brainstorming?

I read John Lehrer’s New Yorker article, Groupthink, and then heard him discuss his new book Imagine on the radio. I found his assertion that brainstorming doesn’t work very interesting — and true. In my own experience leading continuous improvement initiatives and conducting workshops,  I’ve used that technique and find Lehrer’s claim true — specifically as a way to find a new and creative solution to a problem. Often you have a room of people who are there because their bosses made them go to the meeting or appointed them as the representative of a particular department or function. Being put into a situation where you have to brainstorm with a group of co-workers is what I like to call “corporate fun.” You put a bunch of adults in a room and try to get them to thinking outside their daily work routine. Dull work routine one minute, creative genius being unleashed under duress the next. Corporate legislation of creativity. The transition can be tough or just doesn’t happen effectively.  And the results are mixed.

I agree with Lehrer that in the end, you can often come up with better ideas alone rather than in a group, particularly when you are relaxed and not trying hard to be creative. However, groupthink is useful and does serve some purpose, even if it doesn’t actually unleash employees’ creative sides or come up with the next big thing. Getting everyone in the same room brainstorming to try to solve a problem or come up with great ideas helps the cultural process and helps put everyone on the same page. In the age-old team-building process of forming, storming, norming, and performing, brainstorming can serve to facilitate getting a group working well together to accomplish a goal. It helps inculcate corporate norms and culture and helps build teams.  Maybe it’s brainwashing “lite” instead of brainstorming. Rather than necessarily getting the best ideas, brainstorming can help create high-performing teams who need to get a job or project done. But as a tool to get the best ideas out of people, the tyranny of the majority often quashes some of the good thoughts. Not overtly, but with subtle body language. The wild and crazy thought is put up there because people are supposed to be non-judgemental. Every thought is supposed to be considered. But some of the best ideas are left on the list, but taken no further or disregarded because of who said them or because an idea’s possiblities are not understood or just don’t fit with peoples’ mindsets.

What are your experiences?

Sherry R. Gordon

Author of:
Book: Supplier Evaluation and Performance Excellence: A Guide to Meaningful Metrics and Successful Results
CloudDVD: Supplier Evaluation and Performance Management



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One Response to Corporate fun: what's wrong with brainstorming?

  1. Sherry,

    I think more often than not when you get groups together on a project many people are there just because they are selected and you can tell by how much time they spend playing with their phone usually. Many times it seems like the best plan is to engage people by giving them something to do before the next meeting and have them come back with ideas that everyone can discuss and give feedback on. That way, you save time but also get the best aspects of group work.


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