Brainstorming is a long-favored method from PMI as a best practice tool, especially used in Requirements Gathering and in Risk Identification.
However… an article in the current New Yorker, January 30, 2012, by Jonah Lehrer, entitled: “GROUPTHINK,” has applicability to Project Management teams. Based on an extensive study by Charlan Nemeth, professor of psychology at UCLA in 2003, there are three related ways of group facilitation for idea-generation, and brain-storming comes in second place, ahead of “Free-wheeling,” but behind “debate condition” (details below).
Central to the article is that: “There is a problem with brainstorming. It doesn’t work.” The article traces the long history of acceptance as fact that brainstorming is best. Brain-storming gained great popularity after Alex Osborn (the “O” in advertising giant B.B.D.O.) wrote about it in his best-selling book: “Your Creative Power.” But per Lehrer’s article and Nemeth’s study, the three methods, in order of proven effectiveness, (#1 worst, #2 middle, #3 best) are as follows:
1. Free-wheeling (no guidelines): people work together and alone without specific rules for how ideas will be generated and collected.
2. Brainstorming: with Osborn’s cardinal rules:
- Censor criticism
- Encourage the most freewheeling associations
- Defer judgment
- Go for quantity
3. Debate Condition: Debating and even criticizing each other’s ideas leads to more and better solutions. A few key quotes from Nemeth’s study and Lehrer’s article:
- “Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it’s always invigorating. It wakes us right up.”
- “Decades of research have shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.
- “Teams given the ‘debate condition’ were the most creative by far. On average they generated nearly 20% more ideas.”
- “And after the teams disbanded… the brainstormers and the people given no guidelines produced an average of three additional ideas; the debaters produced seven.”
- “Criticism allows people to dig below the surface of the imagination and come up with collective ideas that aren’t predictable.”
Q Factor – “Nobody creates a Broadway musical by themselves”
The article also references an extremely interesting and extensive study by Brian Uzzi at Northwestern, where he analyzed the results of collaboration in thousands of Broadway Musicals. He assigned a “Q Factor,” quantifying the degree to which the participants in the creative teams already had worked together prior to the current project. His research showed that
- Lowest results: The least successful collaborations were when the team-members had not worked together at all.
- Middle results: Interestingly, the teams where the members had worked together the most attained medium results. Uzzi: “When the Q was too high, the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation.”
- Best results: “The best Broadway shows were produced by networks with an intermediate level of social intimacy.” Uzzi’s research cited that the most effective collaborations occurred with a mix of many team-members who had worked together, plus new members who would bring fresh perspective and challenge those who had collaborated on past efforts.
An authorized “ABSTRACT” of Lehrer’s article is provided online by The New Yorker Magazine at link: GROUPTHINK.Lehrer.NYorker.Jan302012
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