(Note: This post first appeared on Jack’s Garage)
When was the last time you needed to come up with ideas for a program or a solution for a client and someone said, “let’s all go to our offices and take some time to think about it.” Maybe never? Most of the time in business the solution is, “Let’s brainstorm.” You get 6 or more people in a room and hash it out with the ultimate goal of coming up with a volume of ideas that could work. You set ground rules – no bad ideas; impose time limits – 15 minutes on audiences, 10 minutes on strategy, etc; you get snacks. And, most of the time, you get mediocrity. It is very inefficient and ineffective.
The problem with brainstorming is that it is a fight to get your ideas on the table where the best idea doesn’t always get heard. The people who generate the most ideas and get them heard are generally the extroverts — the loudest or the best able to make an argument. This excludes ideas from the rest. The ideas that do come out are rehashed, discussed and added to by the group. This takes more time and leaves less for original thinking and invention. Lastly, it takes an extraordinary person to go outside the group thinking and push against an idea that everyone has contributed to and seems to like. It is this group thinking that waters down ideas and doesn’t leave time and space to exercise invention.
So, how do we generate ideas, push and pull them and get to better ideas? Research actually shows that one head is better than six – and even better is six times one head. Individually we generate twice as many ideas as we do together. But then we need to cull them down and push and mold them into greatness. The optimal formula for greatness seems to me to be to give brief individuals together and then give them adequate time to come up with ideas on their own. The ideas are then submitted to and compiled by a group leader who facilitates a meeting to discuss them. The discussion should spark lively debate over the merits of the ideas plus give ample opportunity for combining and enhancing.
The result – more, better ideas and less wasted time in a conference room with cookies and a white board. Seems like a winning proposition to me.