Brainstorming? Good for Ideas or No?

Solving highly complex problems requires creativity, among other skills. Brainstorming is one of the many tools organizations have used to generate creative ideas over the past thirty years or so. The idea behind brainstorming is that many people working together can produce more ideas than individuals working alone.

A recent study shows that this might not be the case. Group brainstorming produced the same quantity and quality of ideas than individuals working alone.  The take-away?  That group brainstorming might cost more to produce the same creative outputs as individual efforts.

Creativity is an interesting beast. Many of us are good at the “usefulness” part of creativity, but fewer of us are good at novelty (or uniqueness). And the social constraints of group brainstorming (whether in person or online) appear to discourage many people from expressing their unique idea.

So if brainstorming isn’t the best way to encourage novelty, what is?  An interesting paper presented at the 2010 Academy of Management conference gives us a bit of a hint. Christina Sue-Chen and Paul Hempel of the City University of Hong Kong, presented an interesting study that suggested that financial rewards for creativity increased the novel ideas, while decreasing useful ideas.  This by no means settles the great debate about rewards and creativity, but does suggest that rewards might be used as a way to generate new ideas that had not been considered before.  This might be important as we try to solve some of the wicked problems that dog our world.


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