Why Creativity Doesn’t Happen by Committee

By Phil Cooke

I’ve written before that “brainstorming” simply doesn’t work. If you want to get together with friends and kick around a few ideas, ask for their advice, or discuss possibilities, great. But don’t think for a minute that a group will come up with the innovative, breakthrough idea.  

I love bring around creative people. I love getting their advice and counsel. But ultimately, if I’m looking for a game changing idea, then long experience has taught me that it’s time to close the door and start with a blank page. I know I’ll get some haters for that message, but here’s the reasons brainstorming by committee doesn’t work:

1. Research indicates that a number of individuals working alone will generate more diverse and better quality ideas than the same number participating in a brainstorming session.  

2. When you have too many people commenting on creative work, it gets reduced to the lowest level possible. By it’s very nature, we can’t do breakthrough work if we have to please everyone.  Throw up a Google doc and ask everyone to comment, and everyone will – whether they have good ideas or not. Everyone wants to participate and look involved, so they can’t help themselves. 

3. Theoretically, we’re not supposed to judge ideas during a brainstorming session, but even when others don’t, we judge our own ideas. After all, most breakthrough ideas sound ridiculous or crazy at first, and who wants to look crazy in front of their team? As a result, self-censorship happens and the best ideas get held back.

4. Introverts often get left out. Studies have shown that in most brainstorming sessions, the people with dominant, outgoing personalities get most of the attention. They’re assertive. They get excited. As a result, the introverts (who may be the smartest people in the room) back down or stay quiet.

5. Everyone generates ideas at a different speeds. Some people are good at spouting off the first thing that pops into their head, while others need more time. Personally, I can’t stand to be in a room where people are shouting suggestions because it’s just too distracting. I need quiet and some time to let my thinking develop.  

6. Brainstorming is usually championed by the least creative person on the team. He or she may be a leader or team member, but they know they need others to raise their profile because they’re not coming up with ideas on their own. So they believe a group will help.

If you’re a leader, stop having creative meetings and brainstorming sessions with your entire team. While it may seem obvious that a group of people is always better than one, study after study says otherwise. While organizations continue hosting brainstorming sessions, filling up conference rooms with people, poster boards, and sticky notes, the research says it simply doesn’t work. Sessions like this may generate more ideas, but it’s time you started a shift to generating better ideas.

Make the decision of who is the creative person you want in charge of and accountable for the project, and let them run. 

You’ll be glad you did.


Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Their Credibility and How We Get It Back.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.

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