group rethink | January 26, 2012

Jonah Lehrer: Brainstorming Doesn't Work, But Criticism Does

In a major New Yorker story this week, neuroscience speaker Jonah Lehrer writes about what helps, and what hinders, the creation of new ideas. In his typically accessible and thoroughly researched approach, Lehrer takes down a boardroom staple: the brainstorm. In his debunking of brainstorming's merits, he does the very thing proponents of brainstorming specifically aim to avoid—he criticizes. “Criticism allows people to dig below the surface of the imagination and come up with collective ideas that aren't predictable,” he writes. “The power of dissent is the power of surprise. After hearing someone shout out an errant answer, we work to understand it, which causes us to reassess our initial assumptions and try out new perspectives.”

Lehrer's talent for weaving potentially dry academic evidence with casual storytelling shines through in the story. He tells us where to put washrooms if you want to spur creativity, and how a ramshackle not-up-to-fire-code structure called Building 20 became one of the world's most celebrated creative spaces. “The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together,” Lehrer writes. “It's the human friction that makes the sparks.”

Jonah Lehrer has been called "something of a popular science prodigy," by The New York Times, a man of "considerable talents." His new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, will be released on March 20.

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web culture | January 25, 2012