Is Group Brainstorming BS?

People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that when we take a stance different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection. Professor Berns calls this “the pain of independence.

via The Brainstorming Process Is B.S. But Can We Rework It? | Co.Design: business + innovation + design.

Really interesting article on Co.Design that basically says the IDEO / BBDO way of unfiltered group brainstorming is ineffective. The three points: we’re more creative working alone, criticism improves the brainstorming process, and creativity is about happenstance, not planning.

I wholeheartedly agree with points 1 and 3, but have reservations about 2, criticism. The argument is that ideas usually come from the need to find a solution to a problem. Criticizing refines and redefines those problems, which gives the mind more to work with.

I’d agree with that, as long as there’s a constant flow of news ideas running. Some criticism isn’t bad. What is bad is when one person shuts down everyone else’s idea because they’re trying to cram their own idea down everyone’s throat. Or worse, they don’t have any of their own ideas.

I’d love to hear a reaction to this from IDEO.


  1. While I think open-minded, and sort of free flow ideas to help improve something can be a good thing. I think it can be a dangerous thing if those creating the ideas fail to recognize the individual with the stronger idea, and merely following inline with a set rule that it has to be a piece of everyones idea. The practical and efficient should always prevail. Whether it takes a group to create it, or the lone person, the important thing is that it prevails.

    How does that saying go?

    “The horse was designed by an artist, and the Camel was designed by a committee.”

    As far as criticism being a catalyst to increasing potential, I think that’s simply bullshit. Drive comes from passion, you have to reinvent yourself, by yourself.

    • I agree. I think of brainstorming more as a way to get everything out on the table (or board) as possible solutions, and then whittle them down. But in no way should your solution be obligated to incorporate an idea from everyone, that’s just death by committee. Or a camel.


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