We’ve all heard two heads are better than one, right? Collaboration and brainstorming are key to culling the best ideas to the forefront, right? Well, yes and no.
A recent NY Times article by Susan Cain, “The Rise of the New Groupthink,” shares research that strongly suggests we humans are more productive and innovative when we work by ourselves. Look, for instance, at great introverted creatives such as Picasso, Chopin, Gandhi, and in more recent times, Steve Wozniak. They were all brilliant minds that produced great results and worked best in isolation. But at some point, their great ideas and masterpieces needed to be transferred to other people and to the world. And for those of us in the workforce, how do we make the most of what we know as the ‘brainstorm session’ with the knowledge that we might have the best ideas when we work by ourselves?
Today we are bombarded with the idea that we need to work more collaboratively. Yet, reflecting on recent brainstorming sessions I’ve been in, it seems the same colleagues contribute most of the ideas. At first glance, it may look like the quieter people in the group just don’t have any ideas, or worse, are disengaged, but they just prefer a less social arena to actually “brainstorm.” It’s probably not surprising that introverts find their best ideas when given a chance to retreat, but even for extroverts, brainstorming meetings may not yield the best results. Think about the last time you had a really good idea? Was it in the middle of a meeting, in front of clients, or while you were in the shower, or on your morning commute? According to Cain, people in groups tend to mimic others’ responses and forego sharing their own opinions.
So what do we do? We cannot work in a vacuum and we all know collaboration is becoming more critical as organizations become more matrixed and operate in a constant state of change. Cain suggests organizations set up offices to allow for casual interactions with colleagues, but also provide private, personal space for employees to retreat and do their best work.
Here are a few other tips for getting the most of your brainstorming sessions:
- Send out the meeting information (purpose, goals, agenda etc.) at least a day or two in advance of the meeting. This way, team members can start getting creative on their own. Be sure to ask them to come to the meeting with their top 2-3 ideas.
- Have a facilitator present at the meeting to ensure all voices are heard and to track all ideas on a flip chart.
- Lay four ground rules:
- All ideas are good. We need to be truly open to them before we dismiss them.
- Everyone shares their ideas. This goes back to giving the team the information a few days before the meeting. Give people time to be creative on their own.
- Expand on ideas. This means the team collectively thinks through how each idea could be turned into reality. It’s important to see the possibilities, rather than to immediately criticize.
- Let it simmer. Before jumping into the picking the best 2-3, give the team a few days to react. Ask for the team to share their top choices with the facilitator, either by email, or at another follow-up meeting.
Keeping all this in mind, you can generate a lot more possibilities for you, your team and your organization! And if your schedule is too packed with meetings, start scheduling in your own personal “brainstorming” sessions on your calendar. You might surprise yourself with how creative you really are!
written by Jessica House Steward