“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me. They’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.                          Steven Wozniak

Group brainstorming is one of the most effective ways of producing creative ideas.

Or so we’ve been led to believe.

If you’re trying to generate ideas, whether in a traditional business or start up, you’ve probably participated in a group brainstorming session.

Where did the idea of group brainstorming originate?

We have Alex Osborn, the founding partner of a huge advertising agency, to thank for creating the concept of  group brainstorming.

Osborn wrote several books between the 1940s and 50s. In them, he talked about problems he dealt with as head of his agency.

He thought his employees weren’t creative enough. They had good ideas but were afraid of sharing. Afraid of being  judged by their colleagues.

Osborn came up with a solution. Remove the threat of criticism from group work. Create a process in which group members generate ideas in a non-judgmental atmosphere.

He believed passionately in his concept that groups…minus social judgments…create more and better ideas than employees working in solitude.

And voila! The concept of brainstorming was birthed. Pretty creative, eh?

His theory spread like wild fire. Corporate America gobbled it up. And is still using it today.

Beware: Experts Can Get It Wrong

Here’s where the story gets interesting.

“Group brainstorming doesn’t actually work”, says Susan Cain, the author of In Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking.

In 1963, in one of the first studies done on group brainstorming, Marvin Dunnette — a psychology professor at The University of Minnesota — conducted a study where groups of 4 people each were given a problem to brainstorm while an individual was given a similar problem to brainstorm on his own.

The results were shocking. The individual working solo produced more ideas of equal or higher quality than 23 out of the 24 groups.

Over the next 40 plus years, the research consistently showed the same results. Performance gets worse as group size increases.

“The evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups”,  says Adrian Furnham, an organizational psychologist.

Online Group Brainstorming Is The Exception

Online brainstorming is the one exception to this rule. The results are the opposite of  face to face brainstorming.

Groups perform better than individuals online.

And the larger the group, the better it performs. This is true of professors doing research (who are thought of as introverts) as much as advertising executives coming up with a sales pitch for a client.

A major difference between on line vs. face to face brainstorming is that when you work online, it’s still a type of solitude.

Yet one has to wonder what Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Homeland, or any number of other TV shows would be like if there wasn’t a team of writers pounding out fresh material day in and day out.

Now it’s your turn. I want to hear how you do your best brainstorming. In a group? Solo? A partner?

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