I love stories that debunk conventional wisdom, especially cobwebby corporate wish fulfillment. In this case, a wholesale frontal assault on creativity training:
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, Forget Brainstorming
Brainstorming in a group became popular in 1953 with the publication of a business book, Applied Imagination. But it’s been proven not to work since 1958, when Yale researchers found that the technique actually reduced a team’s creative output: the same number of people generate more and better ideas separately than together. In fact, according to University of Oklahoma professor Michael Mumford, half of the commonly used techniques intended to spur creativity don’t work, or even have a negative impact. As for most commercially available creativity training, Mumford doesn’t mince words: it’s “garbage.” Whether for adults or kids, the worst of these programs focus solely on imagination exercises, expression of feelings, or imagery. They pander to an easy, unchallenging notion that all you have to do is let your natural creativity out of its shell.
Bronson and Merryman do go on to make some concrete recommendations and observations:
But the one I found most compelling is that multitasking seems to support creativity:
Take a break.
Those who study multi-tasking report that you can’t work on two projects simultaneously, but the dynamic is different when you have more than one creative project to complete. In that situation, more projects get completed on time when you allow yourself to switch between them if solutions don’t come immediately. This corroborates surveys showing that professors who set papers aside to incubate ultimately publish more papers. Similarly, preeminent mathematicians usually work on more than one proof at a time.
Perhaps my bias toward multitasking is based on the nature of the work I do, and that I think is central to most professionals: it’s creative work. So putting something down when you have come to a halt, and turning your mind to something else for a while actually increases our capacity for creative thought.
Again, proof that we aren’t chairs, we are people.