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Brainstorming feels good, doesn't work

Question: Aren't two (three, four . . .) heads better than one?

Answer: Takes only one head to answer this — the head of anyone who has studied the research on "brainstorming." It doesn't work. It's overrated. It's a waste of time.

And the bigger the group, the more inefficient their thinking. To say this is heresy in many circles — political, military, educational, business — but the evidence has been clear for 50 years, says social psychologist Professor Gordon W. Russell in "Sport Science Secrets: From Myth to Facts." Loners or at most duos (John Watson and Francis Crick discovering DNA) generate more and better ideas.

Oh, sure, putting heads together over coffee and amid souped-up morale can be, well, heady stuff. It's fun. And people come away feeling the process worked — the "illusion of group effectivity." Why? Because, says Russell, group members tend to take credit for ideas even if they didn't really originate them, fostering a roundtable glow of mutual ego-boosting. And it all feels so downright democratic.

So even if in fact nothing comes of it, everybody just can't wait for the next stormy brain session to ensue.

Question: Do you have a good idea how high you can jump? How about your hang time?

Answer: Most people guess a second or so, but are in for a surprise if they try. Basketball great Michael Jordan was one of the best, going up three feet or more, clocks at around .9 second air time, a couple of tenths more than most hoopsters and twice better than most of us mortals.

So good is Michael that he seems to hang level in space.

If you watched his head carefully, up, up, up it goes, then levels off and seems to hold there, uncannily.

His secret lay in his fancy legwork. At the top of one of his signature jumps, Michael brings both feet bent back up behind him, seeming perhaps stylish affectation, yet it is more than that. In fact, it helps his shooting.

For once he is airborne, he can no longer change the movement of his center of gravity. But by bending his legs at just the precise moment, he stabilizes his upper body while his center of mass goes up, then down. This movement is now translated to his arms and legs, steadying his eye for a deadly shot.

Similar wizardry permits leaping ballet dancers to hold their head level, a picturesque effect. Skillful high jumpers snake their bodies up and over, body part by body part, even as their center of gravity never clears the bar.

Question: Most of us reach half our adult height by around what age? (a) 10 years (b) 8 (c) 6 (d) 4 (e) 2

Answer: Age 8 or 6 are common guesses, but you'll need to drop all the way to 2 to score a height-hit. Average infant is about 20 inches long at birth, 30 inches by Birthday No. 1, 35 inches by Birthday No. 2, say V. Gregory Payne and Larry D. Isaacs in "Human Motor Development: A Lifespan Approach."

Fascinating how a human body comes on line: First the head reaches close to its adult length, then the trunk, then the limbs, says San Francisco State University psychologist Ronald Mayer in his online "Human Development: The Beginnings of Behavior."

At birth, a baby's head is already huge (reason for those fetching eyes), 25 percent of total body length and 60 percent of its eventual size, then "shrinks" to less than 15 percent of body length by adulthood. Sizewise, our bodies slowly catch up with our head-start heads.

"Not understanding these subtle proportional shifts, medieval artists painted infants — as with the young Christ done at this time — to look strangely like miniature adults."


Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com