In the past year or so, there have been a number of articles and writings on the theme that brainstorming is no more effective than simple idea generation by individuals. I’ve seen the research but not really evaluated it insofar as the reality of how it works.
Frankly, I find that brainstorming actually does work really well to generate LOTS of ideas and to help frame up a few of those ideas for implementation.
My process is simple. I show an image and ask:
The idea is simple: to let the participants consider the image, project their ideas onto it and then share them as a tabletop. It uses simple and standard brainstorming practices but anchors thinking to some simple metaphors about people and performance. What it also does is generate shared ownership and teamwork when these initial ideas are then fleshed out into discussions about generating workplace Square Wheels™ as well as generating some specific round wheels potential solutions.
Where I differ greatly with those thoughts that brainstorming is equally effective to other approaches for idea generation and creativity is in that interactivity, the reality that one idea from one person can stimulate a related or tangential or even opposite idea from someone else. PLUS, that reality that:
It is often the case that someone who is not involved in the development of an idea might feel the pressure from a perceived risk or will simply reject a different way of doing things because the initial idea was not their idea! This can be subtle and be seen as passive resistance to change or it can be obvious, as a rejection of the idea in a meeting about performance improvement. We have all seen these kinds of things occur.
So, my thought is a simple one:
You simply cannot generate a team-based process that generates active ownership involvement by simply collecting individual ideas from individual people. The group dynamic is simply missing.
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Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.