A time and a place for the brainstorm
Brainstorming often gets a bad press, with the popular belief being that it fosters groupthink and generally hinders the creative process. New research shines a new light on the value of brainstorming however, especially a bit later in the creative process when ideas have already been generated.
The study, conducted by Nicholas Kohn and colleagues focused on the process of combining ideas that have already been generated. In this context the traditional brainstorm appeared to offer advantages over working solo.
Participants formed groups of three that were kept separate to avoid some of the social factors that often emerge during face to face situations. They were asked to come up with ideas to improve their university. Some groups shared these ideas via their computers where each idea was made available for other members of the team to see. Other groups worked in complete isolation with no interaction between team members.
Following this initial brainstorming session the teams were asked to combine their ideas. At this stage the ideas generated previously were shared with the other members of their team. The participants then combined these ideas into concepts and hashed them together into something workable. Half of the teams did this alone, half in the full glare of their fellow team-mates.
As with previous research into brainstorming, during the idea creation phase, those working alone did better than those working in view of their colleagues. When ideas had to be developed further however, collaboration came into its own, with the resulting concepts rated better from the collaborative groups than when people worked independently.
Also of note was that if people worked alone in the brainstorming phase, they were more likely to collaborate in the idea combination phase. If they collaborated in the brainstorming time they generally stuck with their own ideas in the combination phase.
With innovation being more important than ever before, and an increasing array of tools and technologies enabling collaboration, this research should provide some real insight into how organisations can enable good ideas to both form and evolve into workable solutions.
This is a guest article by Adi Gaskell, the editor of The Management Blog for the Chartered Management Institute.