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Forget brainstorming - to innovate, you need an argument

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Using brainstorming to generate new ideas is a method that has been popular for decades. But many people are sceptical as to whether it's quite the "golden ticket" to innovation that it's popularly credited to be.

One such sceptic is Daniel Sobol, writing for Fast Company's Co.DESIGN blog. Sobol comments: "Science shows that brainstorms can activate a neurological fear of rejection and that groups are not necessarily more creative than individuals. Brainstorming can actually be detrimental to good ideas."

Nevertheless, Sobol insists the idea behind brainstorming is correct, in that environments supporting imaginative thinking are necessary to innovate.

The author observes: "We need to work both collaboratively and individually. We also need a healthy amount of heated discussion, even arguing. We need places where someone can throw out a thought, have it critiqued, and not feel so judged that they become defensive and shut down.

"Yet this creative process is not necessarily supported by the traditional tenets of brainstorming: group collaboration, all ideas held equal, nothing judged."

Rather than brainstorming, Sobol believes that good ideas come from argument. But he says the process should be far removed from "freeform yelling". He sets out five "rules of engagement" to gain meaningful ideas from your arguments:

1) No hierarchy. "Breaking down hierarchy is critical for deliberative discourse," insists Sobol. This, he says, creates the necessary
space for ideas to be invented and challenged without fear.

2) Say, "No, because…" Whereas brainstorming relies on acceptance and a lack of judgment, argument has room for the critical process. But if you're going to object to something you need to be able to say why.

"Backing up an argument is integral in any deliberative discourse," says Sobol.

3) Diverse perspectives. You need multiple and differing perspectives to shape ideas, so Sobol advises that the participants in the deliberative discourse should each bring different ways of looking at the problem or mission to the table.

4) Focus on a common goal. The object of the exercise is not just to argue for argument's sake. It should be borne in mind that everyone is working towards a shared goal. So Sobol recommends developing a statement of purpose at the start of each project. This establishes rules and reminds everyone they’re working together, as much as they might disagree.

5) Keep it fun. The work might be intense, thoughtful and rigorous, but whatever the nature of the project, a healthy dose of levity can help the process and shouldn't be taken as a sign that the work isn't being taken seriously. Sobol comments that "deliberative discourse is a form of play, and for play to yield great ideas, we have to take it seriously".

Innovation Is About Arguing, Not Brainstorming. Here’s How To Argue Productively
Daniel Sobol
Fast Company


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