Another Benefit of Sharing Embarrassing Moments

Back in July I wrote a post (based on a Dan Ariely WSJ column ) about how sharing embarrassing stories is a wonderful way to get to know one another, and I shared a few such stories.

Leigh Thompson, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the author of nine books, recently shared another use for embarrassing stories.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Thompson shared research she did with her colleagues that explored whether people could be primed for better brainstorming before the idea generation even starts. In the first experiment, they asked one set of participants to describe a time they’d felt embarrassed in the previous six months; they next asked a second group to describe a time they’d felt proud. The researchers then asked each individual to spend 10 minutes thinking of new uses for a paper clip.

On average, the embarrassing stories group well outperformed their counterparts, both on fluency (the sheer volume of ideas they generated) and flexibility (how many different kinds of ideas they came up with).

In a second study, the researchers randomly assigned 93 managers from a range of companies and industries to three-person teams, and gave them one of two group “introduction” and “warm-up” exercises. Half of the groups were told to share embarrassing stories; half talked about times they had felt pride. The anecdotes had to involve them personally and have happened in the previous six months.

After 10 minutes, they introduced the brainstorming challenge — this time, to generate as many unusual uses for a cardboard box as possible, also in 10 minutes. Using the same scoring criteria — fluency and flexibility — they found that the “embarrassment” teams generated 26% more ideas spanning 15% more use categories than their counterparts.

In conclusion, Thompson notes:

Candor led to greater creativity. Thus, we propose a new rule for brainstorming sessions: Tell a self-deprecating story before you start. As uncomfortable as this may seem, especially among colleagues you would typically want to impress, the result will be a broader range of creative ideas, which will surely impress them even more.”

If that’s the case, then I have the chance to be one of the most creative people the world has ever seen.

I wonder is there’s added creativity for turning red when you tell such stories…

P.S. If you came here looking for more embarrassing stories, my apologies. But me walking into a glass door never gets old: