Brainstorming, Good or Bad?

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In a book titled Applied Imagination, which influenced many companies to adopt brainstorming, Osborn (1957) argued that the average person can think up twice as many ideas when working with a group than when working alone.

Osborn defines brainstormings as the process for generating creative ideas and solutions through intensive and freewheeling group discussion. Every participant is encouraged to think aloud and suggest as many ideas as possible, no matter how bizarre.

However, later studies demonstrate that group brainstorming is actually less effective than individual brainstorming. When brainstorming, groups tend to come up with fewer ideas, and often fewer good ones, than individuals . Group brainstorming generally also results in ideas that are less creative than those generated by individual brainstorming.

But why?

There are two reasons for that. One is that group members may be anxious about being criticised and evaluated by others especially by the ones disliking you on a personal level, leading them to hold back potentially good ideas.

The second reson is Social Loafing. In social psychology, social loafing is defined as the phenomenon in which people slack off in groups. Remember group assignments at school where 5 or six of you were meant to work on a project together but only one or two actually did 90% of the work?

People working in groups typically feel less personally responsible for the outcome of a project than they do when working alone. In addition, people often think that others are loafing. As a result, they do not invest as much effort themselves. Cheer leaders being less loud when cheering in a group than alone, rowers making less effort when rowing in a team and Co-creation of songs by the Beatles members being less popular than their individually written songs, are all suggestive examples of social loafing.

What now??

How do you then effectively utilise individuals’ creativity in a group?

Round Robin Brainstorming is a solution frequently used in Design Thinking Workshops for effective idea generation for innovation steams. This method allows all team members to generate ideas without the fear of being personally evaluated. It also mitigates social loafing as everyone is expected to contribute in the idea creation. This method encourages diversity and the refinement of ideas by bringing together different members with different perspectives and areas of expertise.

Here is how it works…

Step 1 — Gather every group of four around a table and give each person a sheet of paper divided in 4 sections.

Step 2 — As a workshop facilitator, explain the problem that you want to solve and be specific about the objectives of the brainstorming session.

Step 3 — Have each team member, in silence, think of one idea and write it down on one of the four sections on the sheet.

Step 4 — Once everyone has written down an idea, shuffle all the sheets and distribute them to everyone. Everyone should now be holding a sheet with someone else’s idea written down on it.

Step 5 — Have each person to critique the idea and revise it in the second section of the sheet, then pass the sheet to the person next to them.

Step 6 — Again have each person to critique the version 2 idea and revise it in the third section of the sheet, then pass the sheet to the person next to them.

Step 7 — Repeat until all four sections of each sheet are filled.

Step 8 — You now have four ideas and each has been peer reviewed by 3 other members.

This method, not only generates creative ideas, it also creates a sense of belonging to the group as the individuals see the that their opinions are valued and they have been part of creating great ideas . In addition, no one can blame any individual member for an idea that potentially goes wrong later on for any reason.