Believe it or not, there are some business leaders out there who believe group brainstorming is a huge time-waster.
Their argument: in group settings where employees are asked to think creatively, some participants (whether due to conflict, social anxiety and/or complacency) do not contribute as much as they could, thus diminishing the quality and number of ideas generated.
In fact, those on the “group brainstorming is bad” bandwagon argue that individual brainstorming is a much more effective approach to innovation.
I have two problems with this argument.
First, flying solo can actually limit the number, range and originality of ideas generated, as opposed to working in a group. According to the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, not all people are created equal when it comes to innovation. People often find it difficult to “think outside the box,” mainly because they have spent a lifetime operating, getting comfortable and being effective in their own box. The collision of different thinking styles is often a great source of new ideas.
Secondly, this argument looks at group brainstorming in isolation from techniques and processes specifically developed to promote a wider range of original ideas. When teams approach brainstorming or innovative thinking willy-nilly, then yes, they will most certainly see lower participation and fewer quality ideas. That’s because people need structure and tools to effectively approach the brainstorming conversation. Using a structured process that takes different thinking styles into account can make for an immensely powerful and creative group brainstorming session. In fact, according to noted international innovation expert Arthur VanGundy, teams can actually experience a 500% increase in the number of quality ideas produced when using a structured process! But as we know, the output of the innovation process is not ideas: it’s value. A structured process can help teams come up with large volumes of ideas, which is immensely energizing—but consequently, these groups often get stuck when trying to decide on the best ideas. Thus, there is also a need for groups to employ a process that helps them identify which ideas present the most value.
Make no mistake: there is tremendous value in having many brains working on coming up with ideas on your most pressing challenges and opportunities. Having said that, simply putting people in the same room is not likely to generate the value you are looking for.
Consider using these energizing strategies during your next group brainstorming session:
Clearly define the problem or opportunity for which you are asking the team to generate ideas. Present it as a question that starts with “How might we…?”
Define what a “good idea” looks like for you.
Have everyone brainstorm individually for one minute—and then share their ideas with the group.
Use structured brainstorming tools to move your best ideas forward.
Co-Founder of Juice Inc, Thought Leader & Author
Co-Founder of Juice Inc.
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