Myth Busted: Group Brainstorming Doesn't Boost Creativity

Dorottya Nagy-Jozsa PCC Dorottya Nagy-Jozsa PCC today 2024-05-22 label ENG, English tag

I have been working for 20 years now, and there is one thing I definitely learned very early, no matter which multinational company or SME I have worked for: when you want to start a new product, project, or whatever, call a meeting and organize the first brainstorming session about it.

There is a belief everywhere: groups are inherently more creative than individuals. This has been proven false for decades.

Actually, the first study revealing that group productivity is an illusion dates back to 1993. Look for Paulus if you are curious about the details. But for now, it is enough to remember the following:

Research has consistently shown that individuals produce more and better ideas when they work alone.

Yes, you heard that right.

The supposed magic of group brainstorming is nothing more than an illusion. Paul B. Paulus and his colleagues conducted a pivotal study revealing that individuals generate fewer ideas in group settings compared to working solo. Despite this, people still cling to the belief that group brainstorming is more effective. This "illusion of group productivity" stems from the opportunity for social comparison—individuals see others’ contributions and mistakenly feel that the group is more productive as a whole (Paulus et al., 1993).

This isn't new knowledge. These insights have been around for nearly four decades, yet they are often ignored or misunderstood in many professional environments.

Why Home Office is a Creativity Booster

Now, let’s talk about the home office. In the age of remote work, the transition from traditional office spaces to home environments has sparked debates about productivity and creativity. Here’s the researched truth: working from home can significantly boost your creative output. Why? Because it allows you to escape the productivity-sapping dynamics of group work.

Nijstad et al. (2006) found that group interactions reduce the experience of cognitive failures—moments when individuals struggle to generate ideas. While this might sound beneficial, it’s a double-edged sword. The reduction of perceived failures increases satisfaction but doesn’t necessarily lead to higher productivity or creativity.

In fact, individuals working alone are more productive because they aren’t hampered by the inefficiencies of group work, such as production blocking and social loafing (Nijstad et al., 2006).

All in all, I am not saying that I am against group work.

I am not. I do enjoy group work and am happy to organize and be involved in a lot of product development groups, leadership training development squads, etc. But I do that for my own sake, for increasing the fun, joy, and collaboration between our team members.

Not for increasing productivity.

Definitely not.


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