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Brainstorming Doesn't Work

Johan Lehrer's article in the New Yorker lays it out bluntly.
...Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, has summarized the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”
This provides some interesting insight into the dynamics of group creativity. This further develops my earlier thesis describing changing social dynamics as the primary cause of "lame supergroup-itis".

But there's more nuance to this story than outright dismissal of brainstorming. One of the defining factors of brainstorming, according to it's creator, is not allowing negativity as it supposedly stifles creativity. This is wrong.
According to Nemeth, dissent stimulates new ideas because it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints. “There’s this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says. “Well, that’s just wrong. Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive. True creativity requires some trade-offs.”
Sometimes blind positivity isn't the best answer.

As the article continues, researcher Brian Uzzi studied Broadway musicals to develop a measure Q of how familiar different artists were with one another. The higher the Q, the more familiar the artists are with one another and vice versa. After running the data to analyze Q scores with relation to the success of these musicals, the results were stunning.
When the Q was low—less than 1.7 on Uzzi’s five-point scale—the musicals were likely to fail. Because the artists didn’t know one another, they struggled to work together and exchange ideas. “This wasn’t so surprising,” Uzzi says. “It takes time to develop a successful collaboration.” But, when the Q was too high (above 3.2), the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation.

...The best Broadway shows were produced by networks with an intermediate level of social intimacy. The ideal level of Q—which Uzzi and his colleague Jarrett Spiro called the “bliss point”—emerged as being between 2.4 and 2.6. A show produced by a team whose Q was within this range was three times more likely to be a commercial success than a musical produced by a team with a score below 1.4 or above 3.2.
If these results were to hold true across the creative spectrum, they could explain countless musical phenomena.
  • Could this be why so many "legendary" acts tend to flame out after producing their masterpiece instead of producing two masterpieces many years apart?
  • Is this at fault for the sophomore slump?
  • Is there an optimal creative lifetime for a band?  I suspect yes.
Profound food for thought.

Is it time to reevaluate some of your band's procedures?

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