Some people like to think out loud.  In fact, they must talk in order to think.  They love brainstorming; it’s how they create their map of reality.  The problem is that they think everyone else has to engage in the same technique in order to have an abundance of good ideas.  As a result, they subject whatever group they happen to be playing with – family, business, community – to the same process of “out loud” and “out of the box” thinking.

These brainstorming fanatics have even gone so far as to set up rules on how this unbridled creativity is to take place.  The most important rule requires that no one say anything negative or critical of another’s ideas.  In many cases, groups – family, business, community – leave a room pleased that the walls are covered with contributions.  This ideal, feel good boost to productivity or problem resolution seems to be the ultimate in creativity.

There’s only one problem…

Sixty years of scientifically controlled research have shown time and again that brainstorming simply doesn’t work, unless the goal is to promote “groupthink”.   It seems that “too many cooks spoil the broth,” is true, while “Two heads are better than one<” is false.  Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, has summarized the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

So what’s the best template for group creativity?  The research suggests that discussion, critical feedback, and debate lead to more and higher quality decisions than brainstorming.  You see, dissent and criticism stimulate the imagination in ways that result in the benefits of diverse thinking rather than imposed group thinking. 

This has an impact on succession planning and business performance in several ways, all related to the interdependent factors that make up the Succession Matrix®.

  • Owner’s Perspective and Motivation – It’s usually difficult to successfully challenge anyone’s motivation.  Perspective, however, is fair game.  When you are challenged on your perspective, it helps crystallize, as in focus, your thoughts and helps you discern what’s truly important to you.

  • Strategic Planning – Mission and vision can change over time.  So can business model strategies.   You will surely want creative thinking when evaluating and adjusting your company’s vision and mission; don’t sabotage your efforts with brainstorming.

  • Management Synergy and Teamwork – When everyone on the team thinks the same way, you may not be witnessing teamwork.  What you may be witnessing is your own personal “Bay of Pigs” fiasco.  During the discussion stage of business strategies, encourage someone – even appoint someone – to take the proverbial “Devil’s Advocate” role.  

In a LinkedIn group discussion, someone asked group members for the best way to tap into group creativity.  No matter what anyone tells you, it is not brainstorming.  

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