Info You Can Use: Point Some Strong Light At Your Brainstorm

Hat tip to Ian David Moss at Createquity who linked to a New Yorker article on brainstorming in one of his “around the horn” summaries.

The article talks about how the whole idea of brainstorming without criticism for fear of causing someone to censor themselves is less effective at generating good ideas than having someone work alone or engage in brainstorming with debate.

What was really interesting to me was how the importance of opposing ideas applied to artistic collaborations.

According to the data, the relationships among collaborators emerged as a reliable predictor of Broadway success. When the Q was low—less than 1.7 on Uzzi’s five-point scale—the musicals were likely to fail. Because the artists didn’t know one another, they struggled to work together and exchange ideas. “This wasn’t so surprising,” Uzzi says. “It takes time to develop a successful collaboration.” But, when the Q was too high (above 3.2), the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation.


The best Broadway shows were produced by networks with an intermediate level of social intimacy…A show produced by a team whose Q was within this range was three times more likely to be a commercial success…It was also three times more likely to be lauded by the critics. “The best Broadway teams, by far, were those with a mix of relationships,” Uzzi says. “These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies. This mixture meant that the artists could interact efficiently—they had a familiar structure to fall back on—but they also managed to incorporate some new ideas. They were comfortable with each other, but they weren’t too comfortable.”

Brian Uzzi, the sociologist who is cited in the story attributes the success of West Side Story to the fact that Broadway veterans Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents brought the novice Stephen Sondheim on board.

So the lesson for arts organizations might be to keep turn over down so you maintain a good team of artistic/administrative collaborators but introduce people/concepts that take everyone out of their comfort zone a little bit. This applies to boards as much as administrative staff and artistic teams.

Adding an unknown factor to spice things up isn’t a new concept and obviously not the only ingredient for success, but still good to have a little evidence to support the practice.

The New Yorker article resonates with me because I have recently been thinking about the people who have been in the assistant theatre manager position the last few years. We have had three in the 7.5 years I have been running the facility. The first two left to enter graduate school in southeast Asia. Each one of them has brought a different set of skills and interests. I view this as an opportunity to employ their enthusiasm to implement some programs and ideas I have. (I have a few in the works I hope are successful enough to blog on in the next few months.)

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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