I’m pretty good at leading brainstorming sessions. I can get people involved, gin up the excitement, and lead a rollicking session. They’re a lot of fun. But are they productive?
Traditional brainstorming techniques derive from the concepts of free association and divergent thinking which, as Wikipedia notes, “… is a thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.” By exploring many different options, we may come up with something useful.
At the very least, it sounds inefficient – like the random programming of computers. Indeed, I rarely find useful ideas in traditional brainstorming sessions. A session may generate a lot of ideas but many of them of them are either trite or just plain silly.
So I was pleased to find a set of “creativity templates” in an article published in 1999 by Jacob Goldenburg, David Mazursky, and Sorin Solomon of the Jerusalem Scool of Business Administration.
The article investigates high quality advertisements. Do they have common features (templates) and can we use those commonalities to create better ads? The authors studied 200 award-winning ads and identified six basic templates (and several sub-templates). The researchers then compared the award-winning ads (let’s call it Group 1) to two other groups:
Independent judges could classify 89% of the Group 1 ads into one of the six templates. Of the Group 2 ads, 50% used one of the templates. In Group 3, only 2.5% of the ads used one of the templates. So, the templates correlate to higher quality ads.
The researchers then tested whether their insights could be used to create new ads. They established three separate “creative teams” and asked each to create ads for fictional products. The teams were:
Twenty participants were randomly assigned to the three teams and received the designated training. Each group then generated ads for several product categories.
The ads thus produced were then randomized and evaluated in a number of ways. The researchers recruited judges who did not know the objectives of the study and who used well-established criteria for advertising quality.
The findings were quite straightforward. “First, ‘template training’ was found to be superior to ‘no training’ and ‘free association” training and in all the comparisons pertaining to … ad quality measures. … In all cases, template training was superior to training in free association.”
Additionally, the research cast doubt on the efficacy of the free association method used by Team 2. “No clear indication was found that the free association method heightens creativity or brand attitude.” In other words, my frustration with brainstorming may well be justified – it doesn’t increase creativity.
So what are the six templates? We’ll get to that tomorrow. Stay tuned.