The Misunderstood History and Science of Brainstorming

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The Misunderstood History and Science of Brainstorming

On May 25, 1787, a group of revolutionaries convened for a team writing project that would change the course of world history.

They dubbed their meeting the “Constitutional Convention of the United States of America.” And the way they conducted it still resonates for many of us working in today's companies.

Here’s what the official invitation to participate in the Convention read:

Let us come up with a systemme of Government! Everyone powder your wigs and join us in the Continental Congress Room at 9AM sharpe, ready to brain-storm!
No idea is a bad idea! We shall have free coffee and white-boards and bounce-y balls.
The Masons need the room after us, so we have a hard stop at 10. But don’t worry, we should be done by then!”

I’m being facetious here. But as far-fetched as the above sounds, how often do we take on important problems in business using an approach like the above?

All the time.

Groups of people have been coming up with ideas together since forever. Our ability to do this helped us take over planet Earth. And it certainly played a part in the real U.S. Constitutional Convention.
But the ritual of brainstorming—that thing we do when we gather around a table and throw out ideas to spark creativity and open up possibilities—has become one of the most popular problem-solving activities for teams today, despite its one big problem:

It doesn’t work.

Everyone’s got something to say about brainstorming. This mega-article by Shane Snow breaks down why it usually doesn’t work, and how to actually unlock the creativity in a group of people.


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