“You Will Do Your Best Creative Work by Yourself”

(p. A12) The value of gathering to swap loosely formed thoughts is highly suspect, despite being a major reason many companies want workers back in offices.

“You do not get your best ideas out of these freewheeling brainstorming sessions,” says Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School. “You will do your best creative work by yourself.”

Iyengar has compiled academic research on idea generation, including a decade of her own interviews with more than a thousand people, into a book called “Think Bigger.” It concludes that group brainstorming is usually a waste of time.

Pitfalls include blabbermouths with mediocre suggestions and introverts with brilliant ones that they keep to themselves.

. . .

Plenty of people have always bemoaned brainstorming. Longtime Wall Street Journal readers may recall a 2006 “Cubicle Culture” column that skewered the popular practice, and Harvard Business Review published a research-based case against the usefulness of brainstorming in 2015.

. . .

Sometimes leaders bring employees together to create the illusion of wide-open input, says Erika Hall, co-founder of Mule Design Studio, a management consulting firm in San Francisco. In-person brainstorming is part of the back-to-office rationale for many of her clients, and she generally advises the ones that truly want to improve collaboration to first carve out some alone time for their workers.

When Hall needs inspiration, she goes for a run.

“It’s freaky,” she says. “I will go run on a problem, and things will happen in my head that do not happen under any other circumstance.”

Others might find “Aha!” moments in the shower or while listening to music. Leaving breakthroughs to private serendipity can feel, to bosses, like losing control, she acknowledges, but it might be more effective than trying to schedule magic in a conference room.

For the full commentary, see:

Callum Borchers. “ON THE CLOCK; Switch Off Brainstorming If You Want Brighter Ideas.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 18, 2023): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated May 18, 2023, and has the title “ON THE CLOCK; Office Brainstorms Are a Waste of Time.”)

The book by Iyengar mentioned above is:

Iyengar, Sheena. Think Bigger: How to Innovate. New York: Columbia Business School Publishing, 2023.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *