“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door,” Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have written and since that time thousands of mousetraps have been patented. Still, despite all that creative energy and all those ideas, the original “snap trap,” invented by William Hooker in 1894, remains the most popular.

We’ve come to glorify ideas, thinking that more of them will lead to better results. This cult of ideas has led to a cottage industry of consultants that offer workshops to exercise our creative capabilities. They walk us through exercises like Brainstorming and SWOT analysis. We are, to a large extent, still chasing better mousetraps with predictably poor results.

Greg Satell, The 5 Elements Of The Changemaker Mindset, on Digital Tonto website

Brainstorming is doubtless the method that has provoked the most research (Osborn, 1957), but even nowadays we still do not know what to expect with regard to the chief principle on which it is based. In fact, we find as many data in favor of brainstorming (Brillhart & Jochem, 1964; Parnes, 1963; Parnes & Meadow, 1959; Paulus & Brown, 2003; Rowatt, Nesselroade, Beggan, & Allison, 1997) as against it (Langelar, 1970; Mullen, Johnson, & Salas, 1991; Weisberg, 1986; Wisskopf-Joelson & Eliseo, 1961).

Does Quantity Generate Quality? Testing the Fundamental Principle of Brainstorming, by Alfredo Muñoz Adánez, in The Spanish Journal of Psychology 8(2):215-20

Based on earlier research (Diehl and Stroebe 1987) and feedback conducted by the author after a brainstorm, it is usually viewed as an enjoyable, social occasion to work with colleagues in a more engaging way away from the daily routine. However, how much of this enjoyment can be attributed to immersion in creativity rather than an opportunity for social intercourse remains an open question.

Another perhaps more important reason why brainstorming continues to be popular is due to what has become known as the ‘Illusion of Productivity’. This stems from a belief, in spite of published research to the contrary, that a group working together will be more productive than the same individuals working apart. Intuitively one expects this to be the case because different people bring different knowledge and experiences to a group, but the numerous studies on productivity blocking show that this doesn’t happen in practice. The illusion of productivity ranks alongside numerous other cognitive illusions that have been the subject of intensive research in recent years, and testimony to their importance in contemporary thought is the award of a Nobel prize to one of the pioneers of this field of research, Daniel Kahnemann (Tversky and Kahnemann 1974).

Kevin Byron, Creative reflections on brainstorming, London Review of Education, Vol. 10, No. 2, July 2012, 201–213

It is important to note that during the time that brainstorming in groups was becoming very popular, evidence was emerging that it wasn’t the best way to find ideas even when [brainstorming originator Alex] Osborn‘’s brainstorming guidelines were being applied. This was based initially on a research study at Yale university (Taylor, Berry, and Block 1958) showing that the number of ideas produced by individuals working alone (nominal groups) on a creative challenge and then pooled, was twice as great as that obtained with a group working together.


Following the aforementioned Yale study, numerous published studies (summarised in meta analyses by Diehl and Stroebe 1987; Mullen, Johnson, and Salas 1991) have unequivocally confirmed that individuals working apart produce more ideas than when they work in a group even when applying Osborns’ guidelines. In their meta-analysis of productivity in brainstorming, Mullen, Johnson, and Sallas (1991, 18) arrived at the following salutary conclusion about brainstorming: ‘It appears to be particularly difficult to justify brainstorming techniques in terms of any performance outcomes, and the long-lived popularity of brainstorming techniques is unequivocally and substantively misguided’.


In a brainstorm the default method of finding ideas is by free association. The group having been given the problem or challenge statement, seek ideas in a spontaneous, accidental fashion through internal ‘semantic networks’ of association connecting the challenge to other words, phrases, concepts and experiences they can recall from memory.


A good deal of research refutes Osborn‘s claim that group brainstorming could generate more ideas than individuals working alone. For example, in a review of 22 studies of group brainstorming, Michael Diehl and Wolfgang Stroebe found that, overwhelmingly, groups brainstorming together produce fewer ideas than individuals working separately. However, this conclusion is brought into question by a subsequent review of 50 studies by Scott G. Isaksen [A Review of Brainstorming Research: Six Critical Issues for Inquiry — pdf] showed that a misunderstanding of the tool, and weak application of the methods (including lack of facilitation), and the artificiality of the problems and groups undermined most such studies, and the validity of their conclusions.

Wikipedia — Brainstorming

One of the enduring myths in business management circles is that groups are a great source of creativity. However, this is counter to what researchers 1 have found: individuals, in fact, generate a much higher number of original ideas than groups.

Source: The problem with group mind, by Stowe Boyd.
¹ Productivity Loss in Brainstorming Groups: A Meta-Analytic Integration, by Brian Mullen , Craig Johnson and Eduardo Salas, in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Volume 12, 1991 – Issue 1 | View abstract / buy
See also Why Group Brainstorming Is a Waste of Time, by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, on Harvard Business Review website.

Through the faculty of creative imagination, the finite mind of man has direct communication with Infinite Intelligence. 2 It is the faculty through which ‘hunches’ and ‘inspirations’ are received. It is by this faculty that all basic, or new ideas are handed over to man.

Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich |  Download pdf of entire book | Read more about synthetic and creative imagination
2. Napoleon Hill’s Infinite Intelligence is similar in meaning to Edward Matchett’s media and my G-field | Read more about Infinite Intelligence

During an appearance on the BBC Breakfast television show, David Arnold was asked how he goes about composing music. He replied: “You walk around with your aerials out and it gets delivered to you. It’s more about feeling it than thinking about it.”

View more quotes from people discussing how creative imagination influences their work

Many human endeavors—from teams and organizations to crowds and democracies—rely on solving problems collectively. Prior research has shown that when people interact and influence each other while solving complex problems, the average problem-solving performance of the group increases, but the best solution of the group actually decreases in quality. We find that when such influence is intermittent it improves the average while maintaining a high maximum performance. We also show that storing solutions for quick recall is similar to constant social influence. Instead of supporting more transparency, the results imply that technologies and organizations should be redesigned to intermittently isolate people from each other’s work for best collective performance in solving complex problems.

Source: How intermittent breaks in interaction improve collective intelligence, by Ethan Bernstein, Jesse Shore, and David Lazer

While the Synthetic Imagination is the one which will be used most frequently in the process of transforming the impulse of DESIRE into money, 3 you must keep in mind the fact that you may face circumstances and situations which demand the use of the Creative Imagination as well.

Think and Grow Rich! by Napoleon Hill, 1938 edition published by The Ralston Society, Meriden, Conn., USA
3. See next quote.

Riches cannot always be measured in money!

Money and material things are essential for freedom of body and mind, but there are some who will feel that the greatest of all riches can be evaluated only in terms of lasting friendships, harmonious family relationships, sympathy and understanding between business associates, and introspective harmony which brings one peace of mind measurable only in spiritual values!


Through the faculty of synthetic imagination, one may arrange old concepts, ideas, or plans into new combinations. This faculty creates nothing. It merely works with the material of experience, education, and observation with which it is fed. It is the faculty used most by the inventor, with the exception of he who draws upon the creative imagination, when he cannot solve his problem through synthetic imagination.


One can say that the nagual 4 accounts for creativity,” [don Juan] finally said and looked at me piercingly. “The nagual is the only part of us that can create.”

He remained quiet, looking at me. I felt he was definitely leading me into an area I had wished he would elucidate further. He had said that the tonal 4 did not create anything, but only witnessed and assessed. I asked how he explained the fact that we construct superb structures and machines.

“That’s not creativity,” he said. “That’s only molding.”

The tonal and the nagual, excerpted from Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda
4. The nagual corresponds with creative imagination and the tonal with synthetic imagination.

How many ideas does it actually take to arrive at a great one? In our experience, the answer is something on the order of 2,000. Yes, that’s a two with three zeros after it — 2,000-to-1. We call this the Idea Ratio.

Two Stanford Professors Explain How to Produce Hundreds of World-Changing Ideas In 1 Hour, by Jeremy Utley and Perry Klebahn, codirectors of executive education at Stanford’s Institute of Design (d-school)

In spite of decades of evidence to the contrary, many companies continue to brainstorm solutions in crowded conference rooms, filling up white boards with sticky notes and mind-mapping trees. While traditional brainstorming methods are great for producing a lot of ideas, it’s time to start shifting your focus to methods that foster better and more useful ones.

Brainstorming Doesn’t Work — Do This Instead, by Rochelle Bailis, on Forbes website

If there is one simple recommendation that can be distilled from my results, it is this: Creativity practitioners and researchers would do well to worry less about quantity, and more about quality – before, during, and after idea generation.

From quantity to quality: Cognitive, motivational and social aspects of creative idea generation and selection (pdf), doctoral dissertation submitted by Eric Fulco Rietzschel

No great idea has ever come out of a brainstorm meeting,

John Hegarty, co-founder of advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (now BBH) | Source: Sir John Hegarty: Einstein didn’t have a brainstorm session, by Anne Cassidy, on The Guardian website
[…] but it is almost axiomatic that quantity breeds quality in ideation. Not only are logic and mathematics on the side of the truth that the more ideas we produce, the more likely we are to think up some that are good; but likewise it is true that the best ideas seldom come first.

Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Thinking, by Alex Faickney Osborn — 1953, p.156

The simplest and most effective way to generate ideas remains working individually and then convening a team to sift through ideas.

Tomasz Tunguz, Managers Must be Insane to Brainstorm in Groups, a review of Paulus, P. B., & Dzindolet, M. T. (1993). Social influence processes in group brainstorming. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(4), 575-586

In spite of the criticism of brainstorming and CPS [creative problem solving ], many creativity facilitators continue to use it, preferring to criticise the criticism rather than explore and experiment with alternative approaches. And many such facilitators manage to overcome some of the weaknesses of brainstorming. They argue that brainstorming needs a talented facilitator in order to be effective.

The truth is that a talented facilitator can get good ideas out of any group, even when using an ineffective method, such as brainstorming. Indeed, if such facilitators were to adopt better methods, they could get even better results.

Jeffrey Baumgartner, Why Brainstorming Is Not Creative

Active and directed dissent is a better way to counter the cognitive biases of groups and individuals, and to sidestep groupthink. This is essential to increased innovation and creativity truly driving business.

Source: A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work, by Stowe Boyd.

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