Brainstorming, it is a very common thing that is used in agile teams. I never felt very comfortable in that process. I think I know why now.

Brainstorming, it was an idea of Alex Osborn. He found that his employees did have fantastic ideas at that moment, but they where not creative enough. And if they had fantastic and creative ideas, they did not tell it to the colleagues. Why? Because they where afraid for criticism. That is why he kind of invented the brainstorming process. He was looking for rules that could help give people freedom of mind to reveal new ideas. TheĀ four rules are:

  • No criticism of ideas
  • Wilder ideas are better, try to exaggerate
  • Go for larger quantities of ideas, not for quality
  • Build on each others ideas

His idea was that if a group of people follows these rules, they create a lot of great ideas, more and better than if you do it separately. This process became after a lot of years more or less common practice and also in agile brainstorming is used a lot. Rooms filled with pictures on whiteboards or paper, who does not have seen that yet?

But is it like this? Is brainstorming better? In 1963, Marvin Dunnette published a scientific paper that proved the opposite.

He let 24 groups of 4 people brainstorm on several problems. The groups generated a lot of ideas. Afterwards, the participants had to brainstorm on similar problems on their one. To simulate that they also form a group, the ideas of the original group members where added together. So he could compare it. The results where amazing. The individuals produced more ideas than they did if they worked in group. And they did not only generate more ideas, the quality was similar. From 24 groups, 23 groups produced a larger number of different ideas if they worked alone.

Later in history, this experiment was confirmed by other experiments. So it is very curious that brainstorming is still that popular. Brainstorming does not improve creativity. It does not generate the fantastic ideas. It has however his good parts. It improves the social cohesion in the group, so do not throw brainstorming away, it can still be useful. The experiment of Marvin Dunnette did also mention that if first a brainstorming in group is done, and afterwards another individually, that the outcome is much higher.

Brainstorming can also be creative if it is done in another way. If it is done online, for example via a chat group or via mail. So next time if we do want some great ideas, try to do it in a slack chat room. But it is up to your team if you use such chat rooms or not.