The Search for Disruptive Innovation

The traditional goal of brainstorming: to imagine as many new ideas as possible in the hopes of discovering the right one. While this approach certainly has its proven benefits, Thomas Gillier, a professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, walks us through the reasons why disruptive innovation requires a slightly different approach


"In addition to thinking up many new ideas, brainstorming functions by leaving the analysis of these ideas to a later date." says Thomas Gillier. Curious to discover how effective this approach is for disruptive innovation, the professor put brainstorming under the spotlight in his latest work. "The study included 10 groups comprised of three experienced research and development professionals. Each group had 10 one and a half hour sessions to imagine a mobile eco-friendly museum about the Antarctic."

Quantity does not equal quality

At the end of the study, the presented projects were evaluated by museum specialists based on their originality, their feasibility and their utility. The results were surprising as they showed that the groups who developed the most ideas during their sessions didn't necessarily create the most innovative final projects. Another unexpected finding was that disruptive ideas did not in and of themselves result in the best concept.

The key: connecting ideas

In the end, the most successful groups were those that were able to connect ideas as they emerged during the creative process. "As one idea was discussed and analyzed, it led to another idea, and so forth. This interconnected thought process was the key to a unique, feasible and usable result." highlights Thomas Gillier.

Constructive criticism

The success of analyzing and criticizing ideas one against the other forces us to question one of the basic principles of brainstorming: withholding criticism. So while brainstorming offers numerous benefits, particularly in terms of group cohesion, its process has to be adapted if we wish to encourage successful disruptive innovation.