Brainstorm or Braindrain?

All wet?
Those of you in the PR, advertising and marketing business are probably very familiar with the brainstorm model of idea generation, but I know it is also used in many other industries.

For those of you who have been left out of the brain rain, here is a crash course: During brainstorms, a group of colleagues closes themselves into a room and spontaneously blurts out ideas on the given topic. The ideas are excitedly written on giant Post-it notes adhered to the walls by a perky brain storm facilitator.

“There is no such thing as a bad idea,” the facilitator, pacing around the room frenetically, continually reminds us, usually after someone offers a particularly bad idea. “The wilder the idea, the better!”

The group is urged to generate a large quantity of ideas, and rapidly build off ideas with supplements or variations. Toys and treats are often offered, to foster creativity. A few people usually sit quietly looking at their watches, and looking idealess, while a relative few dominate the airwaves. The session ends with the chirpy facilitator congratulating the participants, pointing to all of the giant Post-it Notes on the walls as evidence of the world changing ideas that the brainstorm precipitated.

Brainstorming, which was particularly promoted by legendary BBDO ad man Alex Osborn, is the operational and cultural building block of many creatively oriented businesses. The brainstorm session is to PR and agencies as the assembly line is to a manufacturer. It’s the place where the company’s talent synergistically comes together to create MAGIC.

Or does it?

In the book “Quiet: The Power of Intoverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” author Susan Cain examines the heavy workplace emphasis on consensus and teamwork generally, and the brainstorming work model specifically. Cain cites research done by University of Minnesota psychology professor Marvin Dunnette in 1963. Dunnette asked ad executives and 3M executives to do a set of tasks. Some worked alone, and some in groups. Cain writes:

The results were unambiguous. The men in 23 of the 24 groups produced more ideas when they worked on their own than when they worked as a group. They also produced ideas of equal or higher quality when working individually. And the advertising executives were no better at group work than the presumably introverted research scientists.

Since then, some forty years of research has reached the same startling conclusions. Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases…

‘The “evidence from science suggests that businesspeople must be insane to use brainstorming groups,’ writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. ‘If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.’

…Psychologists usually offer three explanations for the failure of group brainstorming. The first is social loafing: in a group some individuals tend to sit back and let others do the work. The second is production blocking: only person can talk or produce an idea at once while the other group members are forced to sit passively. And the third is evaluation apprehehsion: meaning the fear of looking studid in front of one’s peers.”

So, why is brainstorming still such a big part of business operations?

Because we’re all afraid to protest, for fear we will look like killjoys who can’t appreciate all the giddy merriment and free Snickers bars?

Because all of those Post-it notes on the wall feel more like tangible evidence of productivity than the evidence offered by peer reviewed scientific research?

Because the extraverted leaders that tend to lead organizations personally are attracted to the energy such sessions gives them?

Quick, someone get some giant Post-it Notes, colored markers, beanbag chairs and Cheetos. We’ll get to the bottom of this in no time!

– Loveland

LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign

Rowdy friend and regular visitor Kelly Groehler’s new guidebook to using social media in political campaigns, LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign (in Politics, Business or Otherwise), is hot off the digital presses. Available now in paperback but later this month as an e-book, it’s dedicated to the premise that any candidate, cause or organization that ignores social media today does so at his/hers/its own peril.

And, P.S., relying on your son or daughter to run your social media campaign just ain’t gonna’ cut it.

So Groehler, while a 2010-2011 Policy Fellow at the University of Minnesota Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, joined three other researchers in studying the use of social media in the state’s 2010 gubernatorial race. Their conclusions drive a set of seven rules and 10 basic steps in how to begin using social media in your own campaign.

Independent candidate Tom Horner and campaign staffers for Republican candidate Tom Emmer and Democratic governor Mark Dayton provided candid background information to Groehler and her fellow researchers: Dave Ladd, president of RDL & Associates strategic consulting firm; Greg Swanholm, senior constituent advocate for U. S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Bass Zanjani, deputy district director for U. S. Congressman Keith Ellison.

The key word in the work’s title, LIKE, reminds us that today’s internet stars user-generated content; positive response to that content can be your best campaign message precisely because it is not seen as political propaganda or one-way messaging. However, the flip of this proposition is equally as powerful: unflattering tweets, Facebook messages or YouTube videos can drive a negative force from which a candidate never recovers (think of the aptly-named Anthony Wiener).

LIKE is designed for the novice user of social media and thus, can begin the discussion of why social media matter, what investment of time and resources they will take (no, they’re not “free”) and where to begin in planning an effective template that incorporates social media with traditional media channels.

And the most important take-away of LIKE should be this: campaigns today really are conversations. They involve give and take, multiplied by 800 million members of Facebook.

Follow the LIKE effort on Twitter @LIKESEVEN10.

Checking the Checkers’ Checking

small business association I’m a fan of reporters doing regular fact checking analyses of claims made by their sources, particularly elected officials. Pat Kessler at WCCO-TV’s Reality Check and Tom Scheck at Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) are among those who do a decent job with that locally, but there should be more of it.

But who is checking the checkers? The University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog did an interesting analysis of the fact checking done by the Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact, which is affiliated with the St. Petersburg Times. doing business

Dr. Eric Ostermeier of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance (CSPG) at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs notes that Politifact analyses have found that Republicans lie more often than Democrats or Independents. A lot more.

But Dr. Ostermeier asks a fair question, whether this is because of Politifact’s selection bias. When asked about its selection methodology, Politifact’s Editor told C-Span: small business start up

Continue reading “Checking the Checkers’ Checking”

What In Hell Is the University of Minnesota Thinking?!?!

Today’s Strib had a little bug on the front page I thought I must have misread: “U courting McGuire to business school.” My head spun around. Had to be some other McGuire. Some other U. Some other world. A Jon Stewart satire.

But no, there it was, on page D1: “U considering McGuire as a business school expert.”

Are you fucking kidding me?

I’m sorry. I just can’t say anything more civil.

A seven-million-dollar fine to the SEC. A thirty-million-dollar settlement to make a class-action suit go away. Six hundred and eighteen million dollars he has to put back in the cookie jar in benefits and options. $7,000,000. $30,000,000. $168,000,000.

But wait, William McGuire, former CEO of United HealthCare, has admitted no wrongdoing in these settlements and procedings. Right. Bill McGuire’s just the kind of guy who throws around shiploads of money to get those pesky opposing lawyers out of the lawnchairs around his pool.

And the University of Minnesota Medical Industry Leadership Institute of the Carlson School of Managment is considering McGuire as an executive in residence. You can’t make this stuff up, as Dave Barry says. Leadership!?!?! Will he wear his ankle bracelet in residence? Keep your backpacks close when you go to classes that let McGuire in, students.

Backdating stock options is called lying. Cheating. And the whole options game has become a way for too many fatcats to manage companies for their own short-term gains, ignoring or damaging the interests of the community, employees, consumers and average stockholders investing for the long haul. Giving executives huge piles of options adds to the gross imbalance between executive and average-worker pay and can turn companies and execs away from sound business and smack into the roaring realm of speculation.

What values will you be teaching, University of Minnesota, by bringing McGuire in as an expert? The values of CEOs who run their companies into the ground, take their golden parachute and leave the federal taxpayers with the bill for their employees’ pensions? The values of the S&L executives who decided they deserved a fifth luxury car and a fourth vacation home more than a senior citizen deserved her savings? The values of executives who create shell corporations to siphon money overseas and avoid paying their fair share of taxes for the common good? Enron values?

What will you be communicating about the University of Minnesota if you do this?

University of Minnesota, you’ve got to be kidding. If you bring in Bill McGuire, you can have my diploma back. I’ll organize a diploma burning. I’ll line up hundreds of people to moon the adminstration from the Washington Avenue pedestrian bridges. Or I’ll just set up a lemonade stand outside the Carlson School of Leadership and Larceny where I’ll also, quite openly, sell test questions and answers. Hey, that’s how you get ahead in this game — that’s what you’re teaching us.

— Bruce Benidt, U of M MA 1974.
high yield investments fine