Patt Morrison For January 27, 2012

The brainstorm myth: Do we really work better in groups?

World Science Summit

Thos Robinson/Getty Images

NEW YORK, NY - May 29: Science writer and contributer to Radio Lab, Jonah Lehrer attends the "You and Your Irrational Brain" panel discussion at Water Taxi Beach in Long Island City in conjunction with the World Science Festival on May 29, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for World Science Festival) *** Local Caption *** Jonah Lehrer

Over the past century, America has increasingly put a premium on working well in groups and getting along with others. In the 1940s, B.B.D.O adman Alex Osborn developed the classic brainstorm technique, which has since become “the most widely used creativity technique in the world.” He stipulated that the single most important rule of a brainstorming session is “the absence of criticism and negative feedback.” But it doesn’t work, according to research that has repeatedly shown that groups perform better when there is debate and negative comment is free to flow. It’s that element of human friction that’s necessary to creativity and that can often be determined by something as basic as an office floor plan – and apparently open-plan offices make workers hostile, insecure and distracted.


Have Americans over-emphasized the corporate kumbaya? Or is it important to hold the team paramount?


Jonah Lehrer, author, “How We Decide” and the forthcoming “Imagine: How Creativity Works”

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