Why Group Brainstorming Isn’t a Waste of Time

Posted on April 7 2015 in Inspiration, Tutorials

Alex Osborn was really onto something in the 1950s when he first introduced brainstorming, but since then social experts have spent many words trying to prove that the social limits of a brainstorm hinder it’s productive capabilities. So what happens if we take the social element out of brainstorming and just get down to the ideas?

In this article about Why Group Brainstorming Is a Waste of Time, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuziche cites 4 reasons why traditional brainstorming doesn’t work. Brainstorming using Stormboard solves all 4 of these points, not to mention the time and money it can save companies. Here are the original problems and how we solve them:

Social Loafing

The Problem:

  • There’s a tendency – also known as free riding – for people to make less of an effort when they are working in teams than alone. As with the bystander effect, we feel less propelled to do something when we know other people might do it.

Our Solution:

  • This is more the fault of the team leader than the tools in use. If you aren’t requiring your entire team to contribute something to a brainstorm then the less motivated members of your team may fall into the background. It’s also necessary to recognize that not everyone thinks in the same way and some people may need more time to generate ideas.
  • We help your team hold each other accountable, as ideas, votes and comments (and their creators) are visible both in the storm and in the reporting, so you can see who is contributing. Stormboard allows you to keep a brainstorm open for as long as you want, so everyone can add their ideas when they like.

Social Anxiety

The Problem:

  • People worry about other team members’ views of their ideas. This is also referred to as evaluation apprehension. Similarly, when team members perceive that others have more expertise, their performance declines. This is especially problematic for introverted and less confident individuals.

Our Solution:

  • This problem is very understandable when you put a group of people of different skill levels and expertise in a room and let them do what they please. If you have a culture of management (which most teams do) the more junior or introverted members of the team will feel less confident about their ideas. How do you solve this? Make the brainstorm anonymous and silent. That’s what sticky note brainstorming on Stormboard does for you by letting you choose whether to show or hide who created ideas.

Regression to the Mean

The Problem:

  • This is the process of downward adjustment whereby the most talented group members end up matching the performance of their less talented counterparts. This effect is well known in sports – if you practice with someone less competent than you, your competence level declines and you sink to the mediocrity of your opponent.

Our Solution:

  • This is also solved by the open, anonymous and silent environment. When you’re in a vocal environment and only one person can speak at a time it’s natural for people to latch on to whatever idea was last voiced. When you have an entire group of people writing out ideas at the same time you won’t have time to dwell on other peoples’ ideas, but you’ll still get an opportunity to discuss them later. Sometimes it’s important to make it known that no ideas will be discussed until all ideas have been posted, but if someone posts something that jogs an idea you can immediately add it without having to wait for someone to finish talking.

Production Blocking

The Problem:

  • No matter how large the group, individuals can only express a single idea at one time if they want other group members to hear them. Studies have found that the number of suggestions plateaus with more than six or seven group members, and that the number of ideas per person declines as groupsize increases.

Our Solution:

  • We agree that having only one person at a time voice their thoughts is inefficient, which is why taking the vocal element and social anxiety out of brainstorming is so effective. Allowing people to present their ideas in writing means you can benefit from the open creativity of brainstorming without people talking over one another, which means you can have more than the standard 8-10 people in a brainstorm without any problems. Leaving a brainstorm open for a week is also a good way to receive maximum feedback to work with, and being able to report on your ideas and discussions is a great way to move your brainstorm from thought into action. That’s something you don’t get with traditional brainstorming, or even a traditional whiteboard and sticky notes.

So, while we do agree that brainstorming as it was traditionally designed is inefficient and limiting, the idea behind why brainstorming should work is still valid. In order to harness the ideas of a large group of people you need to let them all talk and all be heard, which happens when you brainstorm in silence. It may look like a mess at first, but rounds of discussion and voting will allow your team to narrow down the ideas and elaborate on them, which is truly the whole point of collaboration.

In the article, he says you should just sit alone quietly in a room. If you do all your work sitting in a room without input from anyone else, you’re likely to drift from the goal and lose touch. It’s necessary to have these conversations and to bounce ideas off of each other in order to benefit from the unique skill set and expertise each team member brings to the table.

Brainstorming isn’t a waste of time, you just might need to adopt better processes (and tools like Stormboard) to get the best results.

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