Generating Ideas

by Jim Elliott

There is never a shortage of challenges requiring creative solutions, and there are many ways to generate ideas.  As an active member for many years of TEC (The Executive Committee) and its successor, Vistage, I participated in countless brainstorming exercises with owners of mid-sized companies, who would bring their issues to the group for help.  These exercises take place in one location, with everyone in the same room, and they are conducted by professional group leaders.  

Now, to my great surprise, we read that brainstorming doesn’t work.  “Groupthink” in The New Yorker (Jan. 30, 2012), relates that experiments at Yale, Harvard and several other universities show that brainstorming (where ideas are generated rapidly by group members but not criticized) is less effective at generating ideas than either solo work or groups which debate and comment on ideas as they are proposed. Really?

Frankly, I cannot believe that brainstorming does not work at all, because I have seen it produce results many, many times.  However, I am intrigued by the idea that solo idea-generating and guided debate conditions may be superior.  We are always working to improve our methods, and for years, we have been using collaborative software such as Mindjet’s mind-mapping software to coordinate contributions from multiple offices for big projects.  Mindjet’s MindManager 2012 has a Guided Brainstorming Mode that we will be testing soon.  

I would be very interested to hear from readers about your thoughts and experiences with brainstorming in your businesses, and other techniques you may have found that work as well or better.  Please feel free to send comments to me, and be sure to indicate whether you would be willing to have your comments published in a future edition of Ads & Ideas.