Its Complicated,But it Can Be Effective: Brainstorming Still Works

This is a response I wrote to the Medium article Brainstorming Does Not Work: Why people who brainstorm are wasting their time, about the value of brainstorming an alternative group creative processes.

Brainstorming is a technique within a framework of understanding. It was a breakout technique at one time, because it broke with the norm of individuals competing in a work environment in which workers generally did not share their ideas up or down the hierarchy of their company or organization.

Time’s have changed, and speaking out is considered the norm, unless you happen to work in highly competitive companies and compete with, other ambitious people in a dog-eat-dog corporate culture, or a corporate culture that prizes conformity over all else.

Great minds combined with ambition will produce great ideas without any help, and they will use whatever information or resources available without asking others to brainstorm over it first. Many great ideas become refined and improved through group participation, and sometimes group participation doesn’t have to take the exact form of brainstorming to be effective. Invoking Steve Jobs provides some great examples of both.

The first real GUI driven computer from Apple was the Lisa. The Lisa was the predecessor of the Macintosh. All the goodness of the Lisa ended up in the Macintosh, but in a smaller box and at a much smaller price. The Macintosh didn’t arrive fully formed from the mind of Steve Jobs, but it was a much better product than the Lisa, because it was created collectively, and included people who understood engineering and others who understood marketing better than Steve Jobs all on his own.

This also calls to mind the Power Mac G4 Cube, a computer designed beautifully by Jonathan Ives for Apple to be exactly the computer that Steve Jobs wanted; so much so that it shipped priced for executives but was plagued by noise problems and case defects. The Cube would have benefited from more testing and more ideas from more people.

Steve Jobs was never a great one for brainstorming, but he benefited directly from group knowledge sharing?—?which could even take the form of brainstorming sessions to which the are not invited. Most of the components of early computers from Apple benefited from group sharing processes you often find from foreign companies, such as the on-the-manufacturing-floor processes practiced in Japanese factories, or higher up the chain, the Ringi decision making process where agreement is found in smaller management groups of proposals and deliberations. These are sharing methodologies different from brainstorming as we know it, but also sharing rather than hording.

Some great creators pan group creative processes because great creators are driven by their own special type of ambition and self investment. Some great creators like Steve Jobs may do that, but the intelligent ones, again like Steve Jobs, understand the value of creative resources in achieving their end goals.

Brainstorming is a tool in your toolbox. It isn’t the only tool in your toolbox though, and there is no rule against new or re-purposed tools. After 25 years in the tech industry, I still find brainstorming useful in working with new entrepreneurs and product developers.

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