I got stuck in a brainstorm a couple weeks ago. And like a regular storm, this one left nothing but destruction and rubble in its path. The older I get the more I’ve grown to hate brainstorms. After my near heart attack, I realized my time on this planet is precious and finite and brainstorms are a huge waste of what I have left.
Sometimes they’re called “ideation” sessions, like radiation only with ideas. Ideation sounds clinical, more important. Sometimes the ideation leader puts out Playdough or Silly Putty or Slinkys for participants to play with as they “ideate.” It’s their signal to all involved: open the left side of your brain, people! We’re gonna get crrrazy! We’re about to think waaaay outside the box!
Ten or twelve more or less smart people sit down in a room together and instantly became dumber trying to be agreeable, trying to be supportive. No one wants to be the squeaky wheel. So when somebody in the room says something dumb, makes a ridiculous suggestion, the room commends them like contestants on Family Feud: “Good answer! Good answer!”
“Great, write it down,” they shout and the person with the marker logs the bonehead comment on the whiteboard. “There are no bad answers!” Ah, but you know, there are bad answers; some of them are really bad.
But that doesn’t stop the next guy. He’s feeling brave. He yells a thought that really should’ve stayed in his head. And it’s just as dumb (or dumber) as the last guy’s because, hey that last guy got cheers from everyone with his dumb suggestion, I can get cheers, too. All that group positivity drags the level of intelligence steadily down…
Someone actually invented the brainstorm--- and not as a punishment. An old advertising guy named Alex Osborn, the “O” in BBDO, came up with the technique. He was damn proud of his creation. Back in the 30s and 40s he’d put together squads of creative people, as he called them, to storm a problem until they conquered it.
Osborn believed many heads were better than one and every little creative idea they generated was a fragile, little flower that needed gentle nurturing. So every half-assed notion got equal attention and respect.
About ten years later, study after study proved that brainstorms don’t work and, in fact, have the opposite effect on creativity. Bad creative ideas, they discovered, don’t need nurturing, they need to be ignored and crushed to death in favor of the good ones. But there I was, 80-some years later, sitting through another brainstorm, surrounded by all that ideating. The only thing we created was the illusion of accomplishment. Hey wait! Maybe that's the whole idea...
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