Brainstorming: Controversy and Education

As I mentioned in my previous post, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding brainstorming. In 2012, Jonah Lehrer wrote an article for The New Yorker titled “Groupthink: the brainstorming myth.” You can find the article here. Larger criticisms of brainstorming include:

  • Brainstorming does not allow room for debate. Conversations and challenges around ideas can sometimes lead to more engagement in an idea. [1]
  • When brainstorming is always with the same group of people, there can be repeat material or a “group-think” mentality. [1]
  • Brainstorming is seen as a “feel good way to boost productivity.” [2]

While these points are valid, I will “defend” brainstorming, and show why this technique is essential for education:

  • “Brainstorming is designed for idea volume, not depth or quality” [3] This is also an essential idea for using brainstorming in education. While there are other types of thinking tools that could drive more quality or depth of ideas, the purpose of brainstorming is to allow a free flow discussion of ideas, which is essential in education. Sometimes, education is all about the test, the right answer, and there are students who rarely speak up. Brainstorming can be an effective tool to allow creativity, open-mindedness and allow all students a chance to share their ideas. When participation is encouraged from all students, when ideas are not analyzed on effectiveness, students are able to show creativity and imagination. Brainstorming gives them a space to try new ideas.
  • One criticism from Lehrer’s article, is that people will walk away with a “feel good” attitude about their productivity. My question: is that so bad? Especially when children are brainstorming, is it so wrong for them to feel heard and that someone values their idea?

Brainstorming allows students to share their ideas, without fear of failure. I can see so many ways to incorporate brainstorming techniques within the library specifically, which I will talk about next time.

[1]. Lehrer, J. (2012). Groupthink: the brainstorming myth. The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/01/30/120130fa_fact_lehrer?currentPage=all

[2]. Jana, R. (2012). Why brainstorming doesn’t work–and what does. Smart Planet. Retrieved from: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/decoding-design/why-brainstorming-doesnt-work-and-what-does/

[3]. Berkun, S. (2012). In defense of brainstorming. Retrieved from: http://scottberkun.com/2012/in-defense-of-brainstorming-2/

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One thought on “Brainstorming: Controversy and Education

  1. Lisa, I found your blog post to be really useful! I tend to be a little bit negative and agree with Lehrer when it comes to brainstorming. I’ve always sort of felt that it was a waste of time and that there is always a couple of people who never stop talking and dominate the entire brainstorming session. However, I really liked what you said about it allowing students to be creative and express themselves. I think its extremely important to support individuality and self-expression in the classroom, so after reading your blog post I can definitely see how brainstorming could come in handy. I also really like how you mentioned school being all about tests and getting the correct answer. I think this is a huge problem in schools and I support any idea or teaching tool that allows students to focus on the bigger picture, rather than just the right answers. And I totally agree with you that there is nothing wrong with a “feel good” attitude! Students face daily negativity so I love the idea of giving them the opportunity to feel positive about themselves. Thanks for your eye-opening post. Maybe I wont complain so much next time I have to be a part of a brainstorming activity! -Kayla

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