Brainstorming: alone or in a group?
One thing I’m always intrigued about is the brainstorming process. Specifically, is it better to brainstorm in a group setting, or to brainstorm alone and then bring your ideas to the group? I’ve always thought that the group concept was the way to do things. This way you can bounce ideas off of one another. However, I’ve found research suggesting the opposite.
According to studies by psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Fiest, people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. Also, their study finds that the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are introverted. They highlight that solitude provides a space for focusing on the task at hand without distraction, thus more productivity and innovation. I wouldn’t have guessed that either.
Other issues with team sessions are the social pressures inherent in a group setting. “People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure,” said Csikszentmihalyi and Fiest.
I know we’ve all been in many, many group sessions. And, we all know how certain people take over the meetings while others remain innocent bystanders. So, if you find yourself in charge of planning a group session, how should you plan the meeting to ensure greater success?
An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests you structure the meeting to ensure social norms work for you, not against you by following these steps:
1. First, break down the group (their example uses a 20-person group) into groups of four. In any group of four, the social norm is for everyone to participate, so no one can hide without seeming uncooperative.
2. If there are five subgroups instead of one combined group, five people rather than just one are offering their ideas at any given time.
3. Put all those pushy people who feel compelled to dominate the discussion in the same group. That will prevent them from silencing the 16 people in the other groups.
But, I also agree with the one of the authors that this does not mean that there is no remaining need for group work. As Susan Cain of the New York Times states, “the problems we face in science, economics and many other fields are more complex than ever before, and we’ll need to stand on one another’s shoulders if we can possibly hope to solve them.”
How are you most creative? With others or by yourself?