It Turns Out Brainstorming Has NEVER Worked

brainstorming never worked

Marc Andreessen’s blog has an interesting little snippet from the book The Medici Effect boldly stating: Brainstorming Sucks. (I paraphrased for emphasis.)

In a [1987 study, researchers] concluded that brainstorming groups have never outperformed virtual groups. Of the 25 reported experiments by psychologists all over the world, real groups have never once been shown to be more productive than virtual groups. In fact, real groups that engage in brainstorming consistently generate about half the number of ideas they would have produced if the group’s individuals had [worked] alone.

In addition, in the studies where the quality of ideas was measured, researchers found that the total number of good ideas was much higher in virtual groups than in real groups.

It only makes sense to me.  How hard is it to stay on task working by yourself? Now multiply that by the number of people in the meeting.

We already knew that meetings make us dumber. The more people that are present when forming ideas, the less you have time to let them marinate, and it’s this marination time that lets the ideas really evolve.

Check out the rest of the post. It’s an enlightening read for sure.

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{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Peter Verkooijen November 11, 2007, 11:59 am

    Brainstorming is only valuable for people who don’t have any ideas of their own. It allows them to jump on ideas from people who actually do have the capacity to come up with ideas and develop them.

  • Mandy Cat August 27, 2007, 2:55 pm

    I’ve been in no more than two effective brainstorming sessions in my oh-so-long professional career. It’s true that brainstorming is valuable when done well. The problem is that conducting a good session is frequently more difficult than the problem under discussion.

  • Laura August 22, 2007, 2:19 pm

    This reminds me of group projects when I was in school. I always hated them because usually one or two kids (me) did all the work.

    Now my kids are in school and they hate group projects too. Imagine that!

  • rafa August 22, 2007, 10:53 am

    The only brainstorming that does not work is the one done wrong and for wrong reasons. Many people call “brainstorming” to have a meeting with no agenda nor goals and expecting to get innovative and creative ideas to change the world out of it. Of course, in that case, “brainstorming” doesn’t work; the problem is, that is not brainstorming.

    It’s like saying “cars were never good for sailing” when cars are not made for (and therefore should not be used for) sailing.

  • Pamela August 13, 2007, 8:06 pm

    I still think brainstorming is a good idea. The study obviously failed to consider some of the factors as elaborated by Sam.
    Experience is still our best source of information.

  • Modern Worker August 13, 2007, 9:55 am

    Glad to see there are like-minded people out there similar to myself. I have never been one to plot out a project. I always dig right in and never waste time beforehand.

  • Helen August 13, 2007, 12:39 am

    Brainstorming failed probably because a group has a higher standard in considering an idea compared to an individual.
    I also agree with Sam that it depends on how focused the group is with their goals.

  • Joe :: Simple Truths August 10, 2007, 7:23 am

    Interesting if anything. I think it depends on the personalities of the people involved. I’ve been in brainstorming sessions with really intelligent people where everybody was going a mile a minute, and we got more accomplished than we ever would have by ourselves. But in general it’s a matter of group mentality. The “I don’t have to think of a creative idea, because someone else will” mindset takes over. It all depends on the situation.

  • Matt August 9, 2007, 9:16 am

    Really interesting study, but now I’m wondering why group brainstorming isn’t as effective as individual brainstorming. It could be the “marination time” as you said, but I’m also wondering if it’s because of mental roadblocks / getting stuck in thinking ruts when you’re part of a group.

  • glen August 9, 2007, 8:56 am

    Excellent points guys. I guess I’ve never been in a professionally run brainstorming session ;)

    I can see points both ways. There are definitely situations where ideas spun together by a group can be awesome. Yet if you’ve got a truly great idea, the only person that can carry out the vision is the person with the original idea.

    In my experience, the best ideas have come spontaneously, not in a planned environment. I guess I just don’t see how forced creativity can work… which is why I need Sam to run my brainstorming sessions! :)

  • John August 9, 2007, 6:36 am

    I agree with Sam brainstorming is a valuable tool and does work, however to get the most out of it you need the right people all focused on the right goal.

    My experience has always been that a team brainstorming an idea can radically improve on what one person alone would have created.

  • Sam August 9, 2007, 5:09 am

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and generally I find it quite informative. However, I’ve been seeing a lot of this “brainstorming is useless” meme and I have to say that posts like this really tick me off.

    Brainstorming is a very effective tool for the right situations. It’s good where collaboration is necessary, or for creative endeavors. It is not effective for ALL problems, for example where each member of a team has to independently develop a separate approach to solve a problem.

    Also, brainstorming has to be run effectively in order to be useful. And this is where 90% of brainstorming events go wrong. I worked as a consultant for many years, and there is a world of difference between brainstorming meetings run by amateurs and those facilitated by professionals. I’ve been in many meetings where the participants in the brainstorm walked out in awe because they didn’t realise they had it in them to come up with such great ideas. This is all thanks to a good facilitator.

    However, if you’ve never been in a brainstorm run professionally, you’ll make sweeping statements like “Braintstorming has never worked”.