For decades, inspired by the wisdom of Alex Osborn, he of the vaunted BBDO Agency, conventional wisdom has banked on the idea that innovation comes from brainstorming. And it’s not just any kind of brainstorming, but rather the type where quantity is valued over quality, and where everyone has an equal voice. The underlying tenet of brainstorming is that there should be no criticism because innovation is a delicate flower to be nurtured and encouraged. In the face of criticism, innovation would wither and die, and we would be stuck with old stuffy, inefficient, uncreative processes. But that was then. Now, conventional wisdom is about to turn its back on brainstorming. Out with “Groupthink,” they say. Groupthink thrives on the notion that everyone should stay positive and get along. But innovation may not come from such a happy place.
The most innovative thinking happens in a cauldron of dissenting views. People with different perspectives bring a broad range of diverse opinions which in turn leads to more creative solutions. One interesting example of this theory put into practice happened at MIT in the 1940s. When the war ended, a large lab was no longer needed but a diverse range of groups all needed space. They moved into the lab space and soon enough collaboration happened between people who would never have otherwise met. It was there that Amar Bose called on the expertise of various people to refine his sound system, which is how the innovative Bose speakers came into being. Similarly, Steve Jobs declared that the design of Pixar’s headquarters would be set up so that random people would run into each other as they were getting coffee. So it would seem that the place where innovative thinking doesn’t happen is in cubicles where people are working alone or brainstorming sessions where everybody holds hands and sings – that song.
- Jonah Lehrer: Brainstorming doesn’t really work. (newyorker.com)