Here at Printfection we’ve recently undertaken a project to refine the wording on our homepage and throughout our site to speak more clearly to our target market. It would have been easy to pile into a room, break out a whiteboard, and start free-styling thoughts in a brainstorm session to determine the new language. But we decided to go another route; instead we’re each privately thinking and developing our suggested copy in separate documents and then will later read and discuss everyone else’s ideas online, refining them to create the ULTIMATE wording (we hope!). Why would we do something that seemingly wastes time and duplicates efforts? Read on young grasshopper…

Back in the 1950s legendary ad exec Alex Osborn invented the concept of brainstorming (as you know it today) which he believed led to the most creative ideas. His version of brainstorming included gathering a bunch of people together in one room and abiding by 4 rules: Don’t judge or criticize, be freewheeling. The wilder the idea the better. Go for quantity; the more ideas you have the better. Build on ideas of fellow group members. Osborn’s theory from there on out, had a huge impact and companies everywhere started using this methodology. The only problem with brainstorming this way though, is that it doesn’t work!

Since then, studies have shown that performance actually gets worse as group size increases as a result of social loafing (allowing others to step up), production blocking (only one person can talk at once), and evaluation apprehension (fear of looking dumb). Beyond that it’s been proven that “the group” is literally capable of changing an individual’s perceptions without the person even realizing it. According to psychologist Adrian Furnham, “The evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups. If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

I should add that the one exception to this is online brainstorming. Groups brainstorming electronically, when properly managed, not only do better than individuals, research shows; the larger the group, the better it performs (think of the success of Wikipedia).

If you’re interested in learning more about the topic I highly suggest grabbing Susan Cain’s Quiet, which also takes on the open office space increases collaboration and creativity theory so many startups are touting.

Anyhow, now that I’ve explained the way we tackle brainstorming, and the way science suggests we should do it, I’m curious- when have you seen the most success with brainstorming at your company?