Is Teamwork Killing Your Ideas?

Last Updated May 14, 2010 10:11 AM EDT

Is brainstorming actually an innovation killer?

Two heads may indeed be better than one when it comes to doing sums or assembling cars, but when what's required is new, fresh ideas, teamwork may actually be the enemy, according to two Wharton School professors. Business is built on collaboration and, as the office newbie soon discovers, meetings are ubiquitous, but is all this group working killing your company's ability to innovate?

Wharton management professors Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich, and a collaborator from INSEAD set out to test different methods of brainstorming and idea generation. What did they find?


To come up with the next iPad, Amazon or Facebook, the last thing potential innovators need is a group brainstorm session. What the pacesetters of the future really require, according to new Wharton research, is some time alone.... group dynamics are the enemy of businesses trying to develop one-of-a-kind new products, unique ways to save money or distinctive marketing strategies.

Instead of a purely team-oriented process, the professors recommend "a hybrid process -- in which people are given time to brainstorm on their own before discussing ideas with their peers." Putting everyone in a room right from the start, they conclude, just invites slackers not to pull their weight and the slightly timid to censor their more off-the-wall (read: innovative) ideas. Terwiesch concludes: "We're fighting the American business model where everybody is [creative], which is just not the case. We find huge differences in people's levels of creativity, and we just have to face it. We're not all good singers and we're not all good runners, so why should we expect that we all are good idea generators?"


Read More on BNET: (Image of brainstorming meeting by juhansonin, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.