Does Brainstorming Work?

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First off, I love RSA’s YouTube channel. If you want short, insightful content snacks, it’s a great destination.

Today on Tumblr I ran across a video narrated by Jonah Lehrer regarding brainstorming. He says, in the traditional sense that most of us regard brainstorming, it doesn’t work. Listen for more:

I’ve been in the practice of not debating ideas too much in a brainstorm. The first idea that pops into most of our heads typically isn’t a stroke of brilliance. A lot of great concepts I’ve seen come out of group brainstorms have started with what (left on its own) was a really odd and bad idea. However, bad ideas can be fleshed out into quality strategic thinking.

Image via Mr Lightman of

I think Lehrer is onto something different here. Some could interpret this as shooting down bad ideas. I don’t believe he’s suggesting that at all. The point he’s making is centered around healthy debate. It’s possible to question an idea without shooting down the person behind it. Healthy debate (unlike what we typically see on TV this time of year) fleshes out ideas and makes the idea creator defend why their idea may be a good one. If it isn’t, how could it be improved to really work.

I’m a fan of playing devil’s advocate in brainstorming sessions. I also believe there’s a fine line between engaging in a healthy discussion and just being annoying or a jerk.

Would you agree with the video above? What do you find works best when formulating new ideas?

UPDATE: Research indicating rejection inspires more creative thinking.

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  • Noah

    I think this is a terrible idea! ok, not really – just trying to spur some innovative thinking.

    • Drew Hawkins

      Well I disagree. And my idea will be more fruitful because of it :)

  • Chad Bryant

    I think brainstorming is something that has yet to be mastered. There isn’t a defined system with a step-by-step process that we can follow to come up with great ideas. Every person has a different way of thinking & communicating. Great post, Drew and I love the video.

    Sidenote: I hope brainstorming works because you just gave me LinkedIn cred as a great brainstormer. Haha ;o

    • Drew Hawkins

      I agree with that – which I know is counterintuitive to the video. There isn’t really a one-size-fits all solution. Everyone is different and respond better in different environments. You just have to figure out what works and go with it.

      I think brainstorming works.