Closing the field on innovation

Here’s another report on the recent research on the limits of brainstorming (previously blogged here): How Group Dynamics May Be Killing Innovation. The underlying research suggests conventional brainstorms are less productive in both quality and quantity, than a hybrid approach which creates time for people to work alone.

It still makes sense to me, but as I reflect on this (and so much other research on creativity), I’m troubled by the apparent urge to set a new magic process to replace an old one. I can imagine eager corporations hurriedly legislating for “hybrid brainstorming” in future. Or the online suggestions box system also plugged in this article.

Part of my concern is that these pieces of research close the field. For instance, they measure the ideas produced in the thirty minute test, but they don’t consider things like the impact on the relationship between participants, which is likely to impact the ideas they generate outside the test environment. (And the ideas generated after the formal event that are the most valuable.)

They have to do that in order to get measurable results, but they then leave out all sorts of other factors that set the context. And the context is going to matter a lot as organisations try to apply the findings.

This is my beef with most “ideation” processes, which fixate on the ideas produced in the fixed time. You can produce a theoretically brilliant, practical idea – but will people want to implement it? Does the ideation process leave some participants feeling dejected because they didn’t feel heard or acknowledged, and what impact might that have? And does brainstorming distract attention from the subtler, informal, casual conversational interactions which may actually be more connected to what really happens in the organisation?

Or as I often want to say when confronted with the latest “proven” technique for innovation… could we just have a conversation?

1 thought on “Closing the field on innovation

  1. Dwight Towers

    As Elvis almost sang, “a little less action, a little more conversation please”? 🙂 Good post. I think “non-creative” people actually fear and resent innovation and people who can spew out good ideas. It unnerves them, disrupts their systems, which they are comfortable with. But nobody comes out and says this, because it’s too threatening, too damaging of the organisation’s morale and self-image… Or am I too cynical?


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