16 June 2006

Better Brainstorming

The Wall Street Journal has a column (reposted here), about the myriad ways in which brainstorming is not an effective way of getting new ideas.
John Clark, a former university dean of engineering, says brainstorming sessions come in handy to distribute blame in the event of failure. But in his experience, most often someone hijacks the topic at hand, tries to prove everyone else wrong, works to impress the superiors who are present, or just plain blathers for his own enjoyment. "I can't remember a single instance where a group produced a really creative idea," he says.
Brainstorming is subject to a basic fallacy: it depends on gathering together all the current ideas that people already have (and hold, and often cherish), and throw them together in one big pot (or flipchart). What brainstorming doesn't have is a mechanism to discover the ideas that haven't been throught-of once everyone's brains have been tapped for all their content. What's more, any dysfunctional office dynamics are unavoidably brought into the brainstorming session; there is nothing inherent in mechanism of brainstorming to disarm the overbearing boss, the control-loving narcissist, the zero-sum gamer, and other similarly disruptive characters.

That's where the thinking framework of McLuhan for Managers, or Applied McLuhanistics, comes in. By using the Laws of Media tetrad to "sort" the various seed ideas - the ones that people bring with them to the session, what has been missed immediately becomes evident. Both the missed grounds, and the missed aspects stick out like big neon signs, flashing, "Here are the ideas we haven't yet thought of!" What's more is that the need to dominate, or to prove the rightness of your idea (or the wrongness of his) is automatically disarmed by the elimination of dichotomous value. Because of its focus on the totality of effects, tetrad-enhanced brainstorming is one of the most effective ways I know to enable a culture of innovation within almost any organization.
Via boingboing

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