Changing the Way Brainstorm Sessions are Run…

screen-shot-2010-05-12-at-61933-pmSome really smart people at Wharton just published research that supports something I’ve known intuitively for years — that is, that group dynamics squish innovation.

In a paper titled, “Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Idea,” Wharton operations and information management professors Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich, along with co-author Karan Girotra, a professor of technology and operations management at INSEAD, propose “a hybrid process — in which people are given time to brainstorm on their own before discussing ideas with their peers — resulted in more and better quality ideas than a purely team-oriented process.”

The paper also noted the absolute best idea coming from a hybrid process topped the Number One suggestion in a traditional model.

The story about the research in Knowledge@Wharton honed on in the reasons why many people are less likely to offer an unbiased opinion in a purely team-based brainstorming process.

  • Employees might censor themselves to go along with the status quo or to avoid angering a superior.
  • Putting several people in a room together is bound to create a lot of conversation; if everyone contributes, there is less time for individuals to share all of their ideas.
  • Some people may think less critically about a problem because they are happy to let others do the heavy lifting.


    Not too whacky. Markers work though.

One of the researchers, Terwiesch said, “In innovation, variance is your friend. You want wacky stuff because you can afford to reject it if you don’t like it. If you build on group norms, the group kills variance.”

For me, the best “out-of-the-box” thinking happens when I run.  Meetings are where the ideas get refined.  Of course, having a white board with non-toxic, functioning markers, helps ; )

Hopefully the hybrid process will start gaining some traction.

To read the paper (some 50+ pages, go here).


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