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Three Disadvantages of the Brainstorm

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In the advertising world, brainstorms are everything. Need that big campaign concept? Just put six or more people in a room, and the best ideas will just fly off the white board. You’ll have so many ideas, you’ll be leaving brilliance on the floor, like so many discarded glow bugs. Right?


Here are three ways in which brainstorms are not as awe-inspiring as you thought they were.


  1. Invites Lazy Thinking: Depending on the dynamic within an organization or within a particular brainstorm, individual participants may be less likely to push their thinking, and instead simply “wait for inspiration.” Why is this? Well, in a group setting, you realize, often subconsciously, that there are others who will throw out the first idea. Then you can trust your brain to simply react to what’s being said. You tell yourself, you are “building” on their ideas in ways that perhaps they would not have anticipated. While this is possible, you are cheating the group by not pushing your own creative thinking. In isolation, the human mind, particularly one trained to be creative, forces itself down unusual paths searching for new connections. In a group situation, the brain will often, naturally avoid some of this hard work.
  2. Misses Out on the Opportunity of a One-Minded Vision: Many teams like to come out of a brainstorm with defined direction. This is a mistake. Brainstorms should be jumping off points only. Using multiple people to generate a strong message or vision invariably clouds the water. While advertising is not art, the creative process is often similar. Consider: How many of the greatest works of art in history were group efforts?
  3. Generates a False Sense of Accomplishment: Too often, certain brainstorm participants feel an unjustified pride for developing strong ideas. Sometimes the laziest thinkers believe weeks later that that award-winning concept was their idea alone! That the others present merely helped develop or simply approve of their brilliance. The problem arises when these individuals discount the contributions of others, thereby creating tension or even strife within a team.


So should we do away with brainstorms? Not at all. When conducted correctly with clear expectations, brainstorms can serve to bring together creative minds in a stew pot of diverse and clashing ideas. But leaders should avoid seeing brainstorms as the be-all-end-all answer to the next big idea.


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