Break this brainstorming rule and better ideas explode

Brainstorm
Brainstorm (Photo credit: TheImageGroup)

Innovation is about challenging even long-standing, tried and tested or cherished beliefs. But are we really prepared to throw out the window what we know and try something new?

Take brainstorming. For years brainstorming meetings have been held where there are grave warnings that no criticism is allowed. The no-criticism rule has been sacrosanct to encourage participants to open up and offer their ideas in a friendly atmosphere.

Well, researchers have turned this long-held belief on its head. They’ve introduced debate and criticism into experimental groups and found that debate provides unpredictability that fosters or produces more and better quality ideas.

Brainstorming has had a bad rap for a long time because it just doesn’t work for many people. Often brainstorming sessions are composed of similar people who hog the talking, others do what is called “social loafing” — ride on other people’s thoughts — and the most terrible ideas (those with nothing to do with the purpose at hand) are put forward.

Brainstorming sessions are supposed to be freewheeling where no one is allowed to criticise the ideas put forward. The aim is to go for a quantity of ideas and keep criticism or judgement on hold until a separate session is held to evaluate ideas.

Not only that:

Participants are meant to feel good with the assumption that they will produce more.

Some recent research has shown that debate of ideas, even open criticism, can help produce more ideas – up to 20% more. This research challenges old beliefs that no-criticism produces the best results.

Other things researchers have found is that unfamiliar perspectives and diversity of participants, who have different perspectives (and backgrounds), can spark better quality ideas.

Just imagine your next brainstorming session: Try introduce debate and criticism into your meeting. Just make sure that your facilitator knows how to handle criticism in the room. And, if you run the meeting yourself, be prepared to handle sometimes awkward or difficult exchanges.

What if you are a solo entrepreneur or are running a sideline business, don’t have a mastermind group, and can’t hold a brainstorming meeting?

Here’s the good news:

Researchers have found that people working by themselves can come up with roughly twice as many solutions as brainstorming groups. It gets even better: Solo brainstormer’s solutions are more feasible and effective too.

One more thing: If you want to know more about individual brainstorming, wait for future blog posts where we will explore some individual brainstorming methods.

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