Where Science Meets Muse

The Problems with Traditional Brainstorming

Posted by Plish on September 26, 2008

Diehl, M., & Stroebe, W. (1991). Productivity loss in idea-generating groups: tracking down the blocking effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 392-403.

Mullen, B., Johnson, C., & Salas, E. (1991). Productivity loss in brainstorming groups: a meta-analytic integration. Basic and Applied Social Psychology. 12, 3-23.

Bernard A. Nijstad and Wolfgang Stroebe; How the Group Affects the Mind: A Cognitive Model of Idea Generation in Groups; Pers Soc Psychol Rev 2006; 10; 186


A perusal of any of the above peer-reviewed articles (and there are many more where those came from!) shows that there are some serious problems with traditional brainstorming sessions.  You know the type.  We’ve all been a part of those pull-multiple-people-into-a-room-for-hours-if-not-days-at-a-time-to-come-up-with-ideas meetings.

 The main issues with these types of meetings are:


  • Producton Blocking (People need to take turns to express ideas. Yes, this is a problem and it is the biggie!)
  • Social Matching (the lowest producing member of the group sets the pace for the meeting – believe it or not!)
  • Evaluation Apprehension (fear of judgement – shy team members are especially sensitive to this)
  • Free Riding (Individuals can’t really be held accountable in brainstormings so not everyone contributes.  It is an issue but very minor.)

Yet, in spite of the issues with brainstormings they continue to be done,most likely because most people never realized that brainstormings were inefficient in the first place.

Before I mention how we can improve our brainstormings, I’m sure many will say, ” Hey, we got the multi-million dollar idea out of a brainstorming!” To which I’ll respond, “How many more multi-million dollar ideas never even made it out into the open because of the inherent inefficiencies with brainstorming?” 


Think about it…


Can any of us afford to not benefit from the creativity of every individual to the utmost?

So…how do we make brainstormings work again?

The first way is to only use two people.  It seems that the above problems are minimized when only two people brainstorm with each other. Apparently there is something to be said for “bouncing ideas of someone.”  But when you only have two people, then you lose the effect of having more brains working on a problem.

The second is to go the ZenStorming route.  This method essentially permits everyone to create ideas simultaneously without fear of repercussion while also building upon each others’ ideas.  No fear of repercussions, no long meetings, and more quality ideas than you’ll know what to do with.

Think about it…


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