"Repair the exhaust vent? That's not why we're here, Tarkin!"
There's an article I've been meaning to write about from a now-obsolete issue of the New Yorker.
It's like a hundred pages, so I'll summarize it for you: In the late 1940s, brash adman Alex Osborn invented a creative technique called Brainstorming, otherwise referred to as the biggest sham since laser hair growth.
Turns out that according to research, individuals participating in a brainstorming session produce fewer ideas than they would have independently. But surely the quality of those brainstormed ideas must be better? Nope, consistently worse.
So what's going on here? Are humans really less creative when they collaborate? How then do we explain Gilbert and Sullivan, the Coen brothers, or the two girls from Hot Problems?
Evidently, the collaborative component isn't the hiccup at all. Rather, it's the first commandment of brainstorming -- thou shalt not criticize.
This is true: The best creative directors I've worked with weren't successful because of the great ideas they had (though they certainly had plenty), but because of the great ideas they recognized.
What I mean is, our minds are always coming up with new combinations of words, pictures, thoughts, and emotions. That's not a difficult skill. You can program a computer to be a random word generator or a random image aggregator.
What makes human creativity unique is the ability to recognize that seed of potential within the creative chaos.
And to do that, you have to probe, question, and generally be an ass.
When we work alone, we're constantly criticizing our own ideas, and that's what inspires new and better thinking. But in the brainstorm, we're working so hard not to dampen anyone's creative thoughts, that we inadvertently hamstring the whole process.
What's great about group creativity isn't the collaboration, but the conflict. Others can probe and question our ideas in ways we never could ourselves.
And that's healthy. That's productive. Sure, you'll all hate each other at the end of it. But that's the price you pay for a better sneaker tagline.