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Brainstorming: Killing creativity?

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How many times has your company or department held brainstorming sessions to generate fresh ideas? Guess what? That method is a creativity killer. Even a decade ago, research showed that when it comes to producing viable new ideas, individuals outperform teams. Professor and researcher Leigh Thompson, author of Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration, shares three novel ways to boost creativity.

1. Alone time. Typically when a group gathers for a brainstorming session, several things happen: Everyone politely listens and agrees too much or one person dominates. Instead, employ “brain-writing” to foster new ideas. Have team members independently write down their ideas. Consider setting a time limit, then have everyone come together to vote on and develop the best concepts.

2. Play the field. Fresh ideas spring forth when a newbie is introduced into a team that’s been together for a while. Maybe it’s the peer pressure that compels the team to be more creative or perhaps it’s the synergy created with the introduction of a newcomer. Either way, it works. A variation on this theme is speed-storming, in which pairs work together for just a few minutes before moving on to the next partner. According to Thompson, ideas generated during speed-storming are more technically specialized and relevant than those from roundtable discussions.

3. Get edgy and agitated. When trying to spark creativity, turn off that calming soundtrack coming through your ear buds. Listen, instead, to something annoying. In a study Thompson conducted, those who listened to a dull political speech were more creative than those listening to their favorite music. Why? The annoyed group were primed to think differently, thanks to their edgy, agitated mental state. The lesson: Keep active and alert. Your co-worker’s annoying throat-clearing may just stimulate your next brilliant idea! And I’m going to add my own encouragement: Never hold back thinking your idea might sound stupid, isn’t edgy or different enough.

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