Speech 09 – Are you still using group brainstorming

You have probably participated in the group brainstorming session, in your company, school or community. Let’s recall the last time of your face-to-face group brainstorming or meeting. Does this sound familiar? A unthoughtful or manipulative facilitator, a few dominant contributors (sometimes with many nonsenses), and the rest of the group: mind-wandering people. The donut tastes good with this tea, am I gonna buy that pairs of shoes? What I am gonna have for my lunch?

Fellow toastmasters and honor guests, today I want to persuade you skip group or committee brainstorming meetings, and work alone with good efficiency and creativity!

Group brainstorming is considered as one of the most effective ways of producing creative ideas. We’ve been led to believe its magic. If you’re trying to generate ideas, whether in a community, a school, a start-up, you’ve probably participated in a group brainstorming session. Thank you, Alex Osborn, the founding partner of an advertising agency, for creating the concept of group brainstorming. He thought his employees weren’t creative enough. They had good ideas but were afraid of sharing and were afraid of being judged by their colleagues. So Osborn came up with a solution. He suggested people to create a process in which group members generate ideas in a non-judgmental atmosphere. He believed that group minus social judgments can create more and better ideas than employees working in solitude.

However, as Susan Cain wrote in her book, Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, “group brainstorming doesn’t actually work”. In 1963, in one of the first studies done on group brainstorming, Marvin Dunnette — a psychology professor at The University of Minnesota — conducted a study where groups of 4 people each were given a problem to brainstorm while an individual was given a similar problem to brainstorm on his or her own. The results were shocking. The individual working solo produced more ideas of equal or higher quality than 23 out of the 24 groups. Over the next 40 years, the research consistently showed the same results, even when the people in the group are all extroverts. Performance gets worse as group size increases.

Why is it that people come up with more and better ideas when they work on problems alone? Consider your last brainstorming session. You may have noticed that, by and large, the majority of the ideas came from the more extroverted members of the team. Brainstorming sessions tend to exclude the potential contributions of an entire population of the problem-solvers who happen to be more introverted. And for those who do participate, there are still limitations to express. Studies show that many participants of a brainstorming session either consciously or subconsciously feel pressured to go along with the dominant idea or pattern of thinking. This psychological tendency, called collaborative fixation, inherently leads to conformity of ideas and reduces the possibility of original solutions.

According to my own experiences, I have recently run a mental health committee with another co-chair and serve at several different research committees in the university. I have the passion to integrate my experiences and skills to help my peers, contribute to the community, and make some changes on campus. However, after several meetings in this semester, I have found that group meetings waste huge amounts of time, passion, talent, and creativity. The group meetings are always dominated by a few people in the group. As an introvert and English as second language people, I sometimes feel frustrated. Same as the rest of the group. Therefore I made a decision last weekend, that I am gonna wash as many committees and group meetings as possible out of my life. And I am gonna stick with prolific individual working or two-person thinking sessions, in order to still contribute to the things that I care about. No matter you are an introvert or extrovert person, I promise you that you work more efficiently and creatively when you work alone. So I encourage you skip group or committee brainstorming meetings, and work alone with good efficiency and creativity!


some ideas and inspirations come from Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking

One thought on “Speech 09 – Are you still using group brainstorming

  1. Pingback: how does people make a deeper meaning | Mixed. Discursive. Random. Records

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