Science says brainstorming is bunk.

Yesterday I was listening to a rather excellent episode of On Being about the cognitive roots of creativity. Now I'm not saying I understand science 100%, but the guest, Rex Young, spelled things out in a way that was easy enough to understand. It was interesting hearing from someone who studied creativity outside of "creative" industries.  Plus, he was backed by science rather than the usual pop-psychological conjecture that surrounds creativity.

Here's a few quick things I took away from the episode. (Though you should listen to the whole interview.)

Science says that brainstorming is bunk.

While it can lead to decent results, it hardly leads to results that are the most creative. Because what happens in a brainstorm is that everyone is trying to impress everyone else. To have their ideas liked. As a result, people hold back the new, challenging ideas and present the ones that are easier to digest. People get shamed into submission.

Brainstorming, it turns out, is a really terrible process. At best brainstorming can add something to a conversation where there is nothing. At worst it makes people feel good that other people agreed with their less-than-creative idea.

I wish more agencies would listen to this kind of advice. Or maybe it's better that they don't and the smart ones do.

Which leads to the second thing I took away: comfort matters. In order to spark great creativity you have to be comfortable being wrong, around the people you work with, over and over and over.

If not, you run into the same problems you have with brainstorming. Comfort allows for a give and take that doesn't come naturally. It allows someone to eviscerate their partner's idea one moment, while championing a different one the next.

Comfort is the reason why writers' rooms work differently from the average brainstorm. The components look the same. But the process is dramatically different.

The episode went in depth about a certain building at MIT that was known for creative results. All sorts of great brains floated through this place and bumped into each other, knocking around some of the most creative ideas in history. It was this unplanned magic that gave the place its brilliance. And gave the world so many good ideas.

But, again, it was because all of these people were comfortable with each other, and accepting of each others' input, that this worked. Any other set of circumstances would have been absolutely toxic.

There's more, way more to take away from the episode. But you'll have to listen to get all that goodness.