Wednesday, 15 February 2012

What Brainstorming Really Was

There's a fascinating article in The New Yorker  about how valuable being able meet other random smart people is for generating good ideas - that's my take on the description of Building 20. Explains a lot about why no good ideas ever come out of government or institutional British companies (neither smart, nor random nor able to meet).

What I didn't know was that "brainstorming" - the most bogus technique for idea generation ever - was invented, or described, by a Mad Man, Alex Osborn, a partner in the advertising agency B.B.D.O in the 1940's. The notion took off and has been blighting creative effort ever since.

He made the story up. Of course he did. It's what Mad Men do. He couldn't tell his readers the various truths about having good ideas. Who wants to know that good ideas come to you out of nowhere after you've been producing utter rubbish for weeks on end? Or from a random conversation with someone you met on a train, or from a song lyric, which meant something to you because you were soaked in the problem, but nothing to the person sitting next to you, because they weren't? And was he going to tell you what his "brainstorming sessions" really were?

Picture it. A bunch of the guys sitting around, relaxed enough not to be worried about sounding silly, throwing out any old bullshit that occurs to them. What does that sound like? Yep. I missed out the cigarette smoke, the drinks and the leatherette seating. They were in the bar after work, sending up each other's ideas, parodying the clients, making silly and probably obscene remarks about how to use the client's products, and suddenly... the copywriter scribbles something down and vows to use it next morning just as soon as he's had enough aspirin to ease the hangover.

Alex Osborn couldn't describe that. So he re-located it, took away the booze, cleaned up the dialogue and called it "brainstorming". How  else could it have been?

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