Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Truth About Brainstorming And The Proof About Learning

Source: Mindjet
It's a shame that Jonah Lehrer's book Imagine - How Creativity Works was soundly discredited by the author's sloppy scholarship. By fabricating quotations in his opening chapter, Lehrer threw into question all of the research and revelations throughout his book. As with James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, this broad-brush tarnish is regrettable, because many of Lehrer's (and Frey's) truthful anecdotes are actually quite helpful. Lehrer introduces new ways of conceptualizing education and teamwork that could affect group learning.

In our classes, we've begun planning for next fall, when our school will implement an expanded one-to-one iPad program. The opportunities for collaboration will be rife, and yet many of the time-honored theories of group learning turn out to be based on relatively thin evidence.

Source: Mavenlink
Brainstorming, for example, which has been practiced for decades in every boardroom and classroom across America, has been shown almost never to work. Brainstorming relies on the conceit that any idea is a good idea, and that feedback is the same as criticism which kills spontaneity. Both of these notions are completely false, and taken as the underpinnings of creativity, they yield surprisingly few and alarmingly thin suggestions in response to any group-think exercise.

Source: Mavenlink
The infographic video below, entitled "Does Brainstorming Work?," presents the findings from Lehrer's book in a visually gripping, stop-motion style. Designed by freelance editor Marija Jacimovic (who also created a clever motion video about "Michael Pollan's Food Rules"), the film highlights the reasons why collaboration needs argument, and why an individual working alone is often more inspired than a hesitant team in a circle. The craftsmanship of the video is stunning, with vibrant textured paper and physical animations.

RSA Shorts - Does Brainstorming Work? from Marija Jacimovic on Vimeo.

Some suggestions for more effective group work come from the infographic "Move Beyond Brainstorming" by Matchstick. This new approach, which stresses structure and focus, is called "Lateral Thinking." A Mavenlink graphic, called "Are We Brainstorming The Wrong Way?," includes other productive ways of generating ideas through interpersonal learning. Some of these include preparing independently ahead of time and emphasizing direct, unvarnished feedback. Finally, the team at Mindjet has assembled a targeted strategy for cooperative dynamics via digital tools.

Source: Matchstick
Ironically, a quote from Lehrer's book sums up both the difficulty of group brainstorms and the elegance of Jacimovic's artistry:
"[The] perfect visual was more than a picture: it was a summary of associations, a map of thought. It was a picture honed by human attention." (p.70)
And by the way, the specious nature of Lehrer's citations is all the more reason to instill faithful research skills in our students. His book is even more proof that readers and learners need critical eyes in separating fact from fiction among at-large media.


  1. It's truly a shame that Jonah Lehrer became a discredited author. I went from being a fan to feeling cheated. You can't rule out the effectiveness of brainstorming without fully exploring new possibilities. What happens, for example, if you brainstorm with people you've never met from all over the world? And you can like ideas or pass them (not downgrade/criticize them.) Wouldn't that be true out of the box thinking?
    In fact, thats what we try to do at my startup @WikiBrains, feel free to visit and have fun!

    Happy Brainstorming!

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