24 August 2009

Making brainstorming work

Interesting piece at PsyBlog on why brainstorming doesn't work. In summary, groups are thought to be better at evaluating ideas, rather than generating them. Better to get people to generate ideas individually initially, then bring them along to a group session to evaluate and develop.

The post drew my attention because during the 1990s I worked at IDEO, an organisation that prides itself on the productivity of its brainstorms. I always thought that part of the strength of IDEO's technique lay in its repeated use within a community of people who, basically, trusted one another. So reticence about expressing ideas, or cruising while others did the thinking were less of a problem there than is suggested in research studies of brainstorming, such as those of Adrian Furnham. IDEO trained its employees in brainstorming technique with an explicit mantra along the lines of: no censoring, build on the ideas of others, encourage wild ideas, one conversation at a time. This might also have mitigated some typical brainstorming pitfalls.

It also turns out (Gallupe and Cooper, 1993) that running brainstorms electronically changes the dynamic of a session so that people are more willing to venture ideas and less likely to sit back and indulge in 'social loafing'. Electronic brainstorming also seems to get round the problem of a fast moving brainstorm where ideas (particularly those of weaker participants) sometimes fall by the wayside before they're recorded. I suspect, though, it lacks the cohesive effect of a successful, traditional brainstorm, which may be almost as important as a session's productivity.

[via Mind Hacks]

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