As a paid facilitator, it might seem risky to openly admit to the pitfalls of group brainstorming. The reality is, however, that overused and improperly executed, brainstorming sessions can be a waste of time for everyone involved. Akin to their close cousin, the improperly focused or overly frequent staff meeting, where participants dread attendance and walk away feeling stripped of productive work time, group brainstorming sessions, which have long been lauded as a linchpin of the creative process, do have some real and well-documented drawbacks. These drawbacks are, unfortunately, too often ignored in order to protect the “feel good” communal nature of the process of collaboration and working together.
In a post a few weeks ago, I mentioned Susan Cain and the TED Talk in which she spoke about creativity and independent thought. The following HBR article furthers her points, making the argument that group brainstorming has been adopted as the gold standard for creativity, with no real empirical evidence to support it, and plenty of evidence highlighting its drawbacks. Social loafing, social anxiety, regression to the mean, and production blocking, are the four main explanations provided in this article for why brainstorming isn’t always the best approach, all of the time.
So, is the message that we should stop all brainstorming, suspend all meetings, and remain isolated in our offices from 9 to 5 producing independent work? Not at all. But, being aware of the potential drawbacks of group brainstorming, as well as having an understanding of the value of independent creativity and thought, can only help to ensure that the collaboration we do engage in is effective, rather than counterproductive, for both our organizations and our teams.