Are Two Heads Really Better Than One?

two heads, group think, brainstorming“Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.”
- John Steinbeck, East of Eden, Chap. 13, 1952

We always hear it and we always say it, “two heads are better than one.”  But when is the last time you ever saw anything with two heads that wasn’t a monster?

Alex Osborn was the “O” in the famous advertising agency B.B.D.O.  Osborn was full of ideas. His first book, How to “Think Up”, was published in 1942, followed by Your Creative Power in 1948, Wake Up Your Mind in 1952, and then in 1953, Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving.

In an opening paragraph on a recent article into “Groupthink,” author Jonah Lehrer wrote,

“Osborn’s most celebrated idea was the one discussed in Chapter 33, ‘How to Organize a Squad to Create Ideas.’ When a group works together,  the members should engage in a ‘brainstorm.’ The book outlined the essential rules of a successful brainstorming session. The single most important of these, Osborn said, was the absence of criticism and negative feedback. Brainstorming was an immediate hit and Osborn became a popular business guru. The underlying assumption of brainstorming is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they’ll end up saying nothing at all. Typically, participants leave a brainstorming session proud of their contribution. The whiteboard has been filled with free associations. At such moments, brainstorming can seem like an ideal mental technique, a feel-good way to boost productivity.”

But there is one overwhelming problem with brainstorming. It doesn’t work. The first empirical test of Osborn’s brainstorming technique was performed at Yale University, in 1958. The results were a sobering refutation of Osborn. Although the findings did nothing to dent brainstorming’s popularity, numerous follow-up studies have come to the same conclusion.

Interesting, isn’t it? Sixty years of scientifically controlled experiments, studies and tests have proven brainstorming to be significantly less effective than individual effort but the brainstorming myth just won’t go away.

But here’s the real kicker: discussion and debate – the very two things prohibited in a  ‘brainstorming’ session - have been repeatedly proven to bring out the best in us.

Discussion and debate; sharing and defending your viewpoint with an open mind, considering and processing the input of other smart people in a fun and safe environment.

When is the last time you’ve engaged in a lively debate about your business, product, or service?  It requires audacity and an openness to new ideas and thoughts.

Big ideas come out of thin air. They come from top-notch research, valuable customer insight, and talented people working with you to exceed your expectations.

It begins with a call, a conversation to discuss your business—where it’s headed and where you want it to go. I leave you with one thought: whatever problems your business faces now, others have faced the same problems—and overcome them.

Let’s talk about your business, your concerns, your goals and ambition, and together we will build a roadmap of effective marketing to get you there.


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