There’s been a lot of chatter lately about brainstorming:

  • How to brainstorm better
  • Brainstorming isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
  • It’s okay if you’re not good at brainstorming
  • Our kids are being trained to brainstorm instead of think up their own ideas

Brainstorming, like every idea-generation technique, has its place, certainly. I have a friend who sets up great brainstorms for a very large multinational corporation, and they definitely get some wonderful ideas out of that process. They also get some lousy ones.  But everyone agrees that making time for that process – coming together to “be creative” is what makes all of those ideas – good and bad – possible.

However, if brainstorming sessions are not run properly, it is remarkably easy for brainstorming to turn into groupthink without anyone realizing it.  Groupthink has the negative connotations that brainstorming escapes: people getting together and forming a mob, not really a consensus.  If everyone is thinking the same thing so it must be a good idea, right?

Utilizing brainstorming best practices to properly structure a brainstorming session – going for as many ideas as possible, allowing one speaker at a time, deferring all judgment during the session, allowing “builds” and visuals, and ensuring all ideas are documents – groups can avoid the pitfalls of a groupthink session.

While there’s a lot to be said for working in small groups to throw ideas back and forth, many also argue the more solitary ways of coming up with ideas as well.

Recent research studies are showing that although we need criticism to improve our ideas, we need solitude to come up with them in the first place. Socializing during the creative process can help to refine ideas, but at the same time, true originality comes from one person trying to solve a problem.

When it comes to problem-solving, all companies have their own culture and ideas about brainstorming.  Understanding this process – especially as it relates to creative idea generation – is certainly an interesting question to ask at an interview.  Knowing how you would be involved with presenting your ideas and/or editing those of others could be a big factor in whether a company’s creative or marketing department is right for you?

What are your thoughts on brainstorming?  Do you prefer solitary or group settings?  Hours or short bursts?

Whatever the answers, knowing how you like to tackle problem-solving – and the way potential companies choose to handle it – could be more telling about a long-term culture fit within an organization than we realize.

Wendy Stackhouse, for Artisan Creative