For countless years, brainstorming was the big buzzword among large, progressive corporations and business organizations around the world. It’s been so ingrained in our working processes and systems, everybody but everybody was into it. Call in some members of the staff, put them in a room with a whiteboard and pentel pens, center on a problem or an issue and creative solutions will flow like the giant waterfalls of Niagara, right? Wrong.
As it turned out in recent years, the professed effectiveness of brainstorming doesn’t come anywhere close to its popularity, such that today, management gurus regard it as highly overrated, pure folly and a waste of time.
What The Research Says
In a research study conducted by the 3M company, it found that people working in teams or groups as in brainstorming sessions come up with thirty to forty percent (30-40%) less ideas than those individually working and their ideas tended to be of poorer quality. Why is this? What happens?
“Anchoring” : During a brainstorming session there is this thing that crops up known as “anchoring”. This is where earlier ideas are likely to influence the rest of the discussions. Norms and limitations get to be established as to what good solutions might be. This then inhibits the expression of new or different ideas and which consequently engenders the nemesis of creative thought: Groupthink.
Pressure Of Conformity : Because brainstorming is biased towards early ideas, it favors less the creative ones because of a phenomenon known as “Pressure of conformity”. As the brainstorming session goes on, the team members, wanting to make a good impression will often come up with the most obvious solutions. Everybody in the team then ends up centering on those ideas, leaving the potentially better ones unexpressed and unexplored.
“Brainwriting” : Write First, Talk Second
As suggested by leading professors, Leigh Thompson and Loran Nordgren from the Kellogg School of Management in the U.S., an effective alternative to brainstorming could be “Brainwriting”. The whole idea is anchored on the principle that the process that generates ideas should be separate from the discussions. In other words, write first, talk second. Not like brainstorming, brainwriting is effective in generating ideas when performed in complete solitude. Backing this up is a finding in a related research study that says brainwriting generates 20% more ideas and 42% more original ideas than those groups who did their brainstorming the traditional way.
The Reason Brainwriting Works. It works because when people think without outside influence or stimuli, their thought processes are not encumbered by any kind of judgment. There’s no pressure to conform, no fear of sounding and looking inane or being ridiculed. It’s a simple process of having everyone quietly write down their ideas and anonymously submit these. The whole team then discusses all the ideas in a systematic manner.
And so the next time your organization starts to plan out a brainstorming session, bring out the idea of “brainwriting”. If it’s new creative ideas and solutions you’d be looking for, it’ll make sense to try this new creative approach.