Thursday, July 22, 2010

But It’s In Newsweek. It Must Be True!

An article in July 19 Newsweek cites seven dos and don’ts for creativity, all under the title "Forget Brainstorming."

Authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman point to a 1958 study by Yale researchers, which, reportedly, found that “brainstorming in a group… actually reduced a team’s creative output.”

Jonathan Vehar, president and cofounder of New & Improved, is having none of it. The day Newsweek published, Vehar blogged a convincing rebuttal explaining that the Yale project only evaluated whether it is better to brainstorm alone or in a group. No indictment of brainstorming there. [FWIW, sometimes it’s better in a group, sometimes it’s better alone.]

Moving right along… the Newsweek article also reported on research by University of Oklahoma Professor Michael Mumford who, according to the authors, condemned available creativity training, calling it "garbage." Maybe Mumford did say that, but I couldn't verify it. On the other hand, Marty Baker, who blogs at Creativity Central, is convinced that “Newsweek got it wrong.”

“’[The article] is a manifestation of what’s wrong with media summaries," Marty declares. "It is a titillating and provocative sidebar that readers will remember without context ... It doesn’t say what Mumford identifies as commercially available creativity training. It does not give particulars about the Yale study back in 1958 -- over a half a century ago.”

True, I noticed all that. And yet... Bronson and Merryman cite a ton more research supporting their seven creative musts. “Don’t tell someone to be creative [Mark Runco, University of Georgia]; “Follow a passion” [Rena Subotnik, American Psychological Association]; “Explore other cultures” [Adam Galinsky, Northwestern]. Etc. Etc.

So where's the truth? I guess I could track down and verify every one of the citations .. and every one of the inevitable disclaimers to the citations. But even having done that, how sure would I be that anybody understands anything about creativity?

Beats the heck outta me. I’m just gonna get out my crayons and see what happens.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

4 comments:

Ashley Merryman said...

Dear Ms. Scott:

There is no scientific support for the efficacy of group brainstorming - whether it be done as an ad hoc corporate meeting, or by professional training.

We have heard from creativity scientists since publication of our article, and they've told us that our mention of brainstorming is the first accurate reporting that they can recall.

I know Mr. Vehar is a passionate defender of his brainstorming and creativity training programs, and I know he would have preferred we had reported that there was mixed scientific evidence about brainstorming.

However, his preference does not mean we were incorrect in our reporting: it means that he disagrees with us.

We have confirmed, repeatedly, with scientists that our reporting was accurate, and that it would have been inappropriate to suggest that the literature on brainstorming is mixed. We've specifically been told by leading researchers in the field, that the findings of inefficacy of group brainstorming are so consistent, that would be both "bad science" and "bad reporting" to even suggest the topic is still up for scientific debate.

I am unfamiliar with Mr. Baker's background, but there is no scientific evidence in his blog post whatsover, and we do not believe that anecdotal evidence is sufficient.

It's true we didn't specifically call out programs that are ineffective. We actually tried to be more positive in our reporting: we asked every single scholar to identify programs that were effective, but they all flatly refused to do so. Instead, they all said there were no commercial programs that were effective.

So instead, we chose to highlight some of the ineffective techniques that are out there being used, and allow the readers to use this in being circumspect when they look to hire professional creativity trainers.

I completely understand your frustration with those who are trying to confuse the issue. And I admire that you'd even consider for a second tracking down citations. But I think your instinct - looking at the entire piece in context and seeing the number of scholars we interviewed, etc. compared to the types of authorities that others may have relied on - will take you in the right approach.

In the future, I might also respectfully suggest that you might also consider the authors of the pieces - simply try to find out more about their work - to see if they have a pattern of careful reporting that you can trust.

For our part, Po and I would welcome you to check out our website, www.nurtureshock.com, to see some of the other 90+ pieces that we've written for Newsweek, Time, New York magazine and others, as well as see reviews of some of our book, NurtureShock.

Thanks very much for your time, and I do, sincerely, hope this helps.

Ashley Merryman

Ashley Merryman said...

Dear Ms. Scott:

There is no scientific support for the efficacy of group brainstorming - whether it be done as an ad hoc corporate meeting, or by professional training.

We have heard from creativity scientists since publication of our article, and they've told us that our mention of brainstorming is the first accurate reporting that they can recall.

I know Mr. Vehar is a passionate defender of his brainstorming and creativity training programs, and I know he would have preferred we had reported that there was mixed scientific evidence about brainstorming.

However, his preference does not mean we were incorrect in our reporting: it means that he disagrees with us.

We have confirmed, repeatedly, with scientists that our reporting was accurate, and that it would have been inappropriate to suggest that the literature on brainstorming is mixed. We've specifically been told by leading researchers in the field, that the findings of inefficacy of group brainstorming are so consistent, that would be both "bad science" and "bad reporting" to even suggest the topic is still up for scientific debate.

I am unfamiliar with Mr. Baker's background, but there is no scientific evidence in his blog post whatsover, and we do not believe that anecdotal evidence is sufficient. [Continued]

Ashley Merryman said...

It's true we didn't specifically call out programs that are ineffective. We actually tried to be more positive in our reporting: we asked every single scholar to identify programs that were effective, but they all flatly refused to do so. Instead, they all said there were no commercial programs that were effective.

So instead, we chose to highlight some of the ineffective techniques that are out there being used, and allow the readers to use this in being circumspect when they look to hire professional creativity trainers.

I completely understand your frustration. And I admire that you'd even consider for a second tracking down citations. But I think your instinct - looking at the entire piece in context and seeing the number of scholars we interviewed, etc. compared to the types of authorities that others may have relied on - will take you in the right direction not just for our piece but others as well.

In the future, I also respectfully suggest that you might also consider researching the authors of the pieces - try to find out more about their work - to see if they have a pattern of careful reporting that you can trust.

For our part, Po and I welcome you to check out our website, www.nurtureshock.com, to see some of the other 90+ pieces that we've written for Newsweek, Time, New York magazine and others, as well as see reviews of some of our book, NurtureShock.

Thanks very much for your time, and I do, sincerely, hope this helps.

Ashley Merryman

Marketing Brillo said...

Dear Ashley:

Thank you for taking the time to write. You've made your case well, which doesn't surprise me. You are excellent writers and it was clear to me in the article that you had made an effort to "get to the truth." I also recognized that some of the other commentators had points of view to grind, but I chose to leave that to the readers to discern.

My frustration with the piece wasn't with any lack of professionalism or believability on your part. I just wanted to read for myself either some of the Michael Mumford research or the original Yale University study.

Clearly, your ability to cover the topic was limited by the one-page of space that Newsweek allotted and, as you appropriately pointed out, I wasn't familiar with your blog or your extensive research. If I had been I would have added a note giving you credit for a depth of knowledge in the area. You deserve it.

On the other hand, I might have come to the same conclusion that -- sometimes -- it's very difficult for readers to "get to the truth," even when professional journalists are reporting. And, simply because something is "published," doesn't make it true.

Finally, for whatever it's worth, simply from a lifetime of career and parenting experience, I agree with all SEVEN of your suggestions for "boosting the creative process." But, then, that's just me.

Most of all, thank you for commenting. And now that I know about nurtureshock.com, I plan to read some more of your pieces.