Friday, March 16, 2012


I have pulled out some sections of an article published in the New Yorker about brainstorming. I encourage all of you to read the entire article on the New Yorker website.

"The underlying assumption of brainstorming is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they’ll end up saying nothing at all. The appeal of this idea is obvious: it’s always nice to be saturated in positive feedback. Typically, participants leave a brainstorming session proud of their contribution. The whiteboard has been filled with free associations. Brainstorming seems like an ideal technique, a feel-good way to boost productivity. But there is a problem with brainstorming. It doesn’t work."

"The results were telling. The brainstorming groups slightly outperformed the groups given no instructions, but teams given the debate condition were the most creative by far. On average, they generated nearly twenty per cent more ideas. And, after the teams disbanded, another interesting result became apparent. Researchers asked each subject individually if she had any more ideas about traffic. The brainstormers and the people given no guidelines produced an average of three additional ideas; the debaters produced seven."

The article goes on to talk about buildings whose designs lend particularly well to chance encounters and collaboration. It is really an interesting read, talking about collaboration trends spanning from Broadway musicals to advancements made at Building 20 at MIT.

"[Building 20's] horizontal layout also spurred interaction. Brand quotes Henry Zimmerman, an electrical engineer who worked there for years: “In a vertical layout with small floors, there is less research variety on each floor. Chance meetings in an elevator tend to terminate in the lobby, whereas chance meetings in a corridor tended to lead to technical discussions.” The urban theorist Jane Jacobs described such incidental conversations as “knowledge spillovers.”"

"Building 20 and brainstorming came into being at almost exactly the same time. In the sixty years since then, if the studies are right, brainstorming has achieved nothing—or, at least, less than would have been achieved by six decades’ worth of brainstormers working quietly on their own. Building 20, though, ranks as one of the most creative environments of all time, a space with an almost uncanny ability to extract the best from people. Among M.I.T. people, it was referred to as “the magical incubator.”

Try to think about how we can create our own ideal environment for collaboration online, as chance physical encounters clearly cannot happen when working in different locations. I think, however, that if we all share as much as we can on the blog, we can successfully pull our knowledge virtually, and also engage in open dialogue.

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