Once upon a time, someone somewhere told you how brainstorming was supposed to work.

Here’s what they said: Everyone should be able to throw out ideas without fear of criticism or judgment. If you evaluate ideas as you go, people start to censor their thoughts, and the brainstorming session goes nowhere.

But as it turns out, this conventional wisdom about conducting brainstorming sessions is off-base. According to research from the University of California-Berkeley, people who debate and criticize ideas in brainstorming sessions came up with 20% more ideas than those using traditional judgment-free brainstorming techniques.

The value of dissent
According to the research, dissent is good for our brains. When our ideas are challenged, it forces us to reassess, revise and reframe our views. It makes us look at the problem from a different angle.

And in the process, new ideas pop up – ideas that are more likely to be practical, too, because they take account of other people’s suggestions.

So the next time you run a brainstorming session, make sure the participants know ahead of time that:

  • Fair criticism of any and all ideas — including yours — is welcome.
  • The goal is to make ideas better, not tear them down.
  • No personal attacks are allowed. Any conflict should be over ideas, not personalities.

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