Brainstorming without judgment is useless…

Studio Fidèle, a risograph / riso print shop in Paris, France

There was an article in The New Yorker entitled Groupthink that I can’t stop thinking about. In fact if you were to photograph my desk right now, you’d have a funny view of just how much I’ve been chewing on it: the printout’s crumpled pages and underlined passages are now dusted with cookie crumbs and Pollock-like splotches of tea and coffee.

The article is a fascinating inquiry into the efficacy of brainstorming as a tool for creative success, and it builds a convincing argument for criticism as a necessary ingredient. Most folks leading a brainstorming session will tell you that criticism or judgment stifles imagination, but a number of studies proves that conflict and disagreement broaden possibilities.

“It is the human friction that makes the sparks.”

According to Charlan Nemeth, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, “dissent stimulates new ideas because it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints.” You know this from countless classes, debates and critique sessions in school — challenge is vital for growth.

Consider your yoga practice and how it’s changed from when you first stepped onto your mat. Has your body always been in agreement with your mind? Has your practice benefitted from being surrounded by other, different students and teachers? We can learn very well on our own, but the way we learn in community — a conversation between myriad personalities, backgrounds, agendas and opinions—is like a magical incubator. “Even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them still expands our creative potential. In a way, the power of dissent is the power of surprise.” If the whole point of brainstorming is to generate new ideas, then you need to come up against some bit of resistance in order to reach the other side.

The final sentence of the article beautifully sums it up: “The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks.”