Grant McCracken finds fault with an article in the WSJ. This took a critical look at brainstorming and Grant reckons its pretty flawed.

Hmm I have mixed feelings and I’m wary of generalising on either side of the argument.

Grant attacks the author for suggesting there is a such a thing as a bad idea. He says “You have to make all ideas welcome to discover the good ones” Well, I absolutely see the merit in that. When someone keeps saying things like “this too is wrong”, “nonsense” “error” “this too is really daft” “so many stupidities”, I think it tends to deter conversation and exploring risky territory. Ironically, those are all words Grant uses to describe the WSJ article. There’s lots of energy in Grant’s argument and I like a good rant. I also think it highlights the paradox of advocating relentless positivity… in the end, it creates its own kind of harsh, no-go area. Some would say that the labelling of things as “good” can be just as tricky as labelling them as “bad”.

Some brainstorms have been satisfying to me, others haven’t. Sometimes they generate a pile of post it notes that no-one wants to do anything with, sometimes they generate new ways of thinking. I think sometimes people go away on their own, and have some bright actionable idea partly inspired by the group. Sometimes they come up with something out of pique because they found the group frustrating. Sometimes, not much obvious happens at all. As a fan of complexity, I’d also suggest that it’s not always easy to know if they “work” or not.

I think sometimes the fast-pace implicit in the “storming” part of the title is a refreshing change for participants, sometimes it leads to overstimulation and a shortage of reflection. I think between Grant and the WSJ we can see both the up and downsides.

Personally, I like methods that allow us people a flexibility to work at different paces and using different ways of interacting. I tend not to use the word “brainstorming” as for me it’s too suggestive of a relentless fast-pace. With more time for reflection, people sometimes generate ideas that are somewhere in the fascinating gaps between one point of view and another. And I like rules-of-thumb more than absolute instructions for how we might all choose to play together.

1 thought on “Brainstorming

  1. Steven Harold


    You are right: brainstorming can be very powerful or it can be a big failure.

    I have been part of some shockingly poor brainstorm sessions that produce no real ideas even thought the team consists of highly intelligent professionals. I believe there are two main causes for this low output. First, the culture of that company, department, or team is opposed to the process. Second, this creativity technique is rarely used by that functional unit as a way to solve problems; therefore, the participants are not well practiced of that kind of thinking, especially in a public forum. If the culture and\or the daily habits of the members are against brainstorming, it is not very effective activity.

    Yet, there are ways to around this problem.

    I have found that using a methodology called wildstorming helps with the process and build a stronger team. Wildstorming is the radical cousin of traditional brainstorming, as it turns the process upside-down and inside-out, where strange and bizarre concepts are the rule.

    During a wildstorm session, team members suggest absolutely crazy solutions to the core issue which is being examined. Wildstorms are a great place to ponder ideas that are true overkill or prohibitively expensive. Wildstorm answers can deny physics and logic; they can be weird, fanciful, or even illegal.

    The remedies discovered during a wildstorming session themselves would probably never be implemented; nevertheless, wildstorms do lead to creative insights on the causes and effects of the core problem. The end result is novel breakthrough solutions.

    The best practices for conducting a wildstorm are outlined at


    I thoughtthe idea of brainstorming was to suspend judgement about the reality of concepts until a later stage. Wildstorming sounds like it is trying to recapture the original thrust of brainstorming and more.

    For me brainstorming is about suspending limitations and practicality to make sure no idea is dismissed too early. Let’s face it what was impractical yesterday may be possible today. Brainstorming if done properly (or wildstorming)keeps the door open to the new and innovative.


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