Grant McCracken finds fault with an article in the WSJ. This took a critical look at brainstorming and Grant reckons its pretty flawed.
Hmm I have mixed feelings and I’m wary of generalising on either side of the argument.
Grant attacks the author for suggesting there is a such a thing as a bad idea. He says “You have to make all ideas welcome to discover the good ones” Well, I absolutely see the merit in that. When someone keeps saying things like “this too is wrong”, “nonsense” “error” “this too is really daft” “so many stupidities”, I think it tends to deter conversation and exploring risky territory. Ironically, those are all words Grant uses to describe the WSJ article. There’s lots of energy in Grant’s argument and I like a good rant. I also think it highlights the paradox of advocating relentless positivity… in the end, it creates its own kind of harsh, no-go area. Some would say that the labelling of things as “good” can be just as tricky as labelling them as “bad”.
Some brainstorms have been satisfying to me, others haven’t. Sometimes they generate a pile of post it notes that no-one wants to do anything with, sometimes they generate new ways of thinking. I think sometimes people go away on their own, and have some bright actionable idea partly inspired by the group. Sometimes they come up with something out of pique because they found the group frustrating. Sometimes, not much obvious happens at all. As a fan of complexity, I’d also suggest that it’s not always easy to know if they “work” or not.
I think sometimes the fast-pace implicit in the “storming” part of the title is a refreshing change for participants, sometimes it leads to overstimulation and a shortage of reflection. I think between Grant and the WSJ we can see both the up and downsides.
Personally, I like methods that allow us people a flexibility to work at different paces and using different ways of interacting. I tend not to use the word “brainstorming” as for me it’s too suggestive of a relentless fast-pace. With more time for reflection, people sometimes generate ideas that are somewhere in the fascinating gaps between one point of view and another. And I like rules-of-thumb more than absolute instructions for how we might all choose to play together.