“Let’s brainstorm on this – I’ll check schedules and reserve a room…” Do those words fill you with anticipation or dread?

Often characterized by playful exercises and “absolutely no criticism” decrees to force us out of figurative boxes, I can understand why some of the more pragmatic types amongst us may look at it all as a bunch of superfluous goofiness. It doesn’t help that formal studies have witnessed solitary subjects generating more solutions to a complex problem than a brainstorming group in the same amount of time. More always means better, right?

Which leads me to ask – why do we brainstorm?

There are reasons I remain committed to the group brainstorming process, but not all brainstorming is created equal, nor equally appropriate. For one, it can be an investment in building cross-disciplinary empathy – which is healthy for the project well beyond the session itself. That, and the cross-pollination that you get through this process will be sorely missed in other solitary approaches. You may not always see eye to eye, but that’s kind of the point.

Quantity of ideas is part of the mechanics of the session, but it is not the prize outcome in my experience. A structured session can look like a way to get a lot of great ideas – but I believe it is much more valuable and valid as an intense “immersion bootcamp” to get an extended project team heading in the same general direction with compatible goals. Coming out of a complex discovery research phase there are a lot of factors and motivations to balance, and some may still be forming. A well-directed group session is often the best way to internalize the research findings for the team so they can proceed into collaborative concept development most effectively.

It is not a silver bullet. There are times that concentrated effort from an individual toward a complex mechanical or geometric problem is unbeatable. More often than not though, I find that rubbing two or more heads together over a problem produces something more meaningful than just static-charged hair.

Years ago I tried to be an island. I valued my design input by how much I could do alone – in quantity, quality, and breadth. But I was so much older then – I’m younger than that now…


image credit: 惟①刻¾
quote: Bob Dylan “My Back Pages”