Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Problem With Brainstorming

[28 March 2006 - Wired News] From time to time I find myself invited to brainstorm for people. This usually involves coming up with new ways my hosts might "add value to their revenue chain" or "leverage their brand." To be perfectly honest, I'm not very good at it. I'll explain why in a moment. First, though, here's a little history of brainstorming. Brainstorming is a creative problem-solving strategy launched in 1953 in a book called Applied Imagination by Alex F. Osborn, an advertising executive. The basic idea is that when judgment is suspended, a bold and copious flow of original ideas can be produced. It's very much a team effort -- rather than getting bogged down in the judgments, personal criticisms and ego clashes that accompany the ownership of, and investment in, certain ideas, the team acts collectively. When you're brainstorming, ideas belong to no one and come from anywhere. Anything goes. ... I pointed out how Bob Dylan's scattershot liner notes to his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, wouldn't have been possible without Osborn's ideas about suspending judgment to encourage ideational fluency; even the term freewheeling is Osborn's, one of the advertising man's four stages of brainstorming (deferring judgment, striving for quantity, freewheeling and seeking combinations). ... Thinking in teams, and pitching other people's ideas rather than my own, I quickly found my freshest thoughts blending into a kind of generalized banality, a dollar-green cookie dough. Quantity there was, but the lack of a personal moral framework and the impossibility of being negative took quality off the agenda. Like the Sundance Kid, I wanted to ask the facilitator, "Can I move now?" Why, 50 years after Osborn's book, do I find that brainstorming, far from unleashing hidden originality in me, blocks and banishes all my most interesting ideas? Put it down to the most important difference between 1953 and 2006: the internet. More specifically, the way the internet has encouraged games with personality and personae, with avatars and animus. More

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