Fostering Creativity

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Writing about a problem near and dear to my heart, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman recommend that we "forget brainstorming" in the sense of rounding up a group of collaborators and telling them to think outside the box.

Brainstorming in a group became popular in 1953 with the publication of a business book, Applied Imagination. But it's been proven not to work since 1958, when Yale researchers found that the technique actually reduced a team's creative output: the same number of people generate more and better ideas separately than together. In fact, according to University of Oklahoma professor Michael Mumford, half of the commonly used techniques intended to spur creativity don't work, or even have a negative impact. As for most commercially available creativity training, Mumford doesn't mince words: it's "garbage."
Bronson and Merryman suggest instead the following techniques, on which they elaborate a little further:
  • Don't tell someone to "be creative."
  • Get moving.
  • Take a break.
  • Reduce screen time.
  • Learn other cultures.
  • Follow a passion.
  • Ditch the suggestion box.
I also look forward to reading their companion article, "The Creativity Crisis," which explores why creativity among American workers is in decline.

Long-time followers of this blog might feel deja vu upon encountering the name Po Bronson. That's because I have taken notice of other thought-provoking essays by the author a couple of times already, in posts titled "Flattery vs. Self-Esteem" and "The Impostor Syndrome." He has a website, too, which I plan to take a look at some time in the near future.

-- CAV


Meghan said...

Hi Gus,

It's interesting that the Forget Brainstorming article says that group brainstorming has been proven to not work since 1958. There are definitely pros and cons to brainstorming as a group v. going it alone, but I really appreciate Bronson and Merryman's techniques that cater to creating inspiration within the individual.
If you're interested, Ashley Merryman will be speaking about the Creativity Crisis tonight with Charlie Rose and others on Bloomberg Television. There's a clip of tonight's episode, including Merryman's segment, posted on Facebook if you'd like to check it out( ).

All the best,

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the tip. My schedule will keep me from the show at least until early next week, but perhaps my readers will find it valuable in the meantime.

I will say that I do agree that there can be value in group exercises -- but that they need to be approached differently than the old, discredited method we're looking at above.

Thanks for stopping by!


Meghan said...


Too bad you'll miss the show, but maybe one of your readers will be able to catch it.

Thanks for your insightful thoughts,