Can brainstorming be an effective tool in building a culture of collaboration and innovation?

By     Jul 16, 2012

My teenage son recently asked me during a conversation about brainstorming, “do we really need rules for everyone to follow?” I had just finished reading Jonah Lehrer’s “Groupthink” in The New Yorker and recalled his remark, “The fatal misconception behind brainstorming is that there is a particular script we should all follow in group interactions.”

I have been part of many effective brainstorming sessions (at NAS) and just as many nightmarish ones (not at NAS). In my quest to learn more about the dynamics of the process and if there truly are rules that help everyone involved, I read the article, “Brainstorming Groups in Context: Effectiveness in a Product Design Firm,” written by Robert I. Sutton & Andrew Hargadon in 1996.

Sutton and Hargadon examine how and why an organization, in this case, IDEO, uses brainstorming sessions. They’ve modified the criteria in Hackman’s effectiveness model to include three factors to consider when using brainstorming as a significant process in your organization.

  1. Extent to which the products of the brainstorming sessions meet the standards of the people who receive, review and use that output
  2. Extent to which brainstorming sessions attenuate or accentuate the organization’s capability to do competent work in the future
  3. Extent to which participating in brainstorming sessions contributes to the growth and personal well-being of participants


We can’t all be like IDEO nor would we want to be I suppose, but there is something to be gleaned from their story and from the framework presented by Sutton and Hargadon.

Other resources:


The Psychology of Teams – Professor Margaret Neale