I was reading the New Yorker this week and was struck by an article by Jonah Lehrer called, Groupthink: the brainstorming myth (The New Yorker, January 30, 2012 pg 22+). The article was interesting in that it completely upended the notion of brainstorming as a productive tool for creative problem solving. Brainstorming? My kids, 1st and 2nd graders, even know the approach. I was taught by my post-grad school employers, ex-Bain & Co., Inc. partners who started their own firm called CDI, that brainstorming was close to godliness in its ability to create solutions for real client problems…Imagine my surprise.
My guess is that brainstorming is familiar to just about everyone. It requires a few people, a room or the 21st-century equivalent, a white board or something more high-tech, a willingness to offer ideas and a limited set of rules. In the rules arena….’no idea is a bad idea’ seems to take precedent.
Lehrer uses empirical data to debunk this free-associating notion. It seems when measured it just doesn’t work. What does work, however, is suspending the ‘nice-to-each-other’ rule for something that looks and feels like ‘debate.’ “While the instruction ‘do not criticize’ is often cited as the important instruction in brainstorming, this appears to be a counterproductive strategy. Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but rather stimulate them.” (The New Yorker, January 30, 2012, Groupthink, pg 24)
So what does this have to do with transition? From my perspective ‘ideas’ lie at the heart of any transition process. Any of us when faced with – or even contemplating – transition need to evaluate a set of ideas on possible next moves. What Lehrer’s article introduces is that conversations are invaluable in the idea stage of transition if the conversations are with folks who might challenge us. Can you find a few thinking colleagues who might disagree with you a bit? If you agree with Lehrer’s analysis…it is these conversations that can propel us forward.
Conversations. One of the most powerful stories on this that I’ve heard was that of a friend of mine. When faced with a search for some contract work following a transition from a full-time job she wrote down some observations that she had on ‘change management in corporations.’ Just prior to her departure she had been involved in a large-scale change management effort. She then outreached via networking (Novofemina’s Ode to Networking) to new contacts to see if they’d be willing to provide feedback on her ‘change management’ thoughts.
Think about it. Someone outreaches to you to ask if you’d provide feedback on a developing set of assumptions about “x.” Are you game? Probably. The meeting wasn’t about her wanting new employment. It was about assisting her in developing a perspective about change, a topic she cared deeply about.
She developed a point-of-view and used it to initiate conversations with all sorts of people. Her conversations led to interesting discussions and to folks linking her to her thinking on the topic. Masterful. And easy.
Lehrer in his article posits that creativity is most effective when ‘enough people with different perspectives run into one another.’ (The New Yorker, January 30, 2012, Groupthink, pg 27) For my friend her conversations helped her shape and re-shape her thinking about change but also her knowledge of the landscape of change beyond the walls of her prior employer. Transition or not…this is an easy way to start a conversation. Have you ever seen how delighted folks are when asked to provide their opinion?
Lehrer’s ultimate summary is that, “all these errant discussions add up.” (The New Yorker, January 30, 2012 pg 27) So go ahead…find a distant acquaintance who might seem a bit quirky and engage her in a conversation about your transition ideas. My guess is that after a few of these conversations you’ll be surprised at how your own thinking moves forward.
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