- “Normal” brainstorming doesn’t work
- Tapping into group conversations is much more effective
- The best ideas come from groups collaborating
I’ve written here before that I don’t think brainstorming works. My opinion is based on 20+ years of experience running groups whose job it was to generate ideas. It didn’t matter if we were working on ideas for new products or how to advertise them, just getting in a room tossing out crazy ideas without a filter and writing them all down didn’t work.
How can we brainstorm better? Here are three ways:
- Set up a filter
- Make it more about conversations, less about lists
- Understand that “Eureka Moments” don’t always happen alone
I always said there were two reasons why, but after reading a recent book on group collaboration, which details the past two decades of academic research, I found many more.
1. Set up a filter
Filtering out bad ideas helps filter in good ones
Filtering has to be done at some point by someone, and it turns out that having a filter in the kinds of ideas you are trying to generate actually helps you generate better ideas – and more of them. So, start out your group letting everyone know that your goal is to generate as many unique and valuable ideas as possible.
2. Make it more about conversations, less about lists
Lists are for individuals
Creative conversations come from groups
Okay, maybe right now you are thinking, “wait, brainstorming is a crazy, no-bad-ideas, free-for-all, right?” – turns out no. You want the environment to be safe and you do not want people to block the flow, but the goal is not a long list of everything that comes to mind. Individuals are better at making lists. Groups are better at conversations, and if you follow a few rules from improv theatre about how to keep a conversation going, then you can tap into the power of group creativity.
3. Understand that “Eureka Moments” don’t always happen alone
Networks of people almost always innovate more
True eureka moments are extremely rare
Almost everything that we assume about creativity, ideas and the people who have it/them is wrong. We love the story of the eureka moment and the lone inventor struggling away until his breakthrough. The problem is that when you dig into the story – and many academics have done this over the past two decades – a very different story emerges. It is a story of networks of people working and sharing ideas, making simultaneous discoveries and inching innovations along bit by bit. The true eurekas are so rare as to be non-existent. Who gets the credit has more to do with power than with true creative genius.
What should we make of all of this?
It turns out that all of us are better than one of us. And this turns out to be the problem in creative fields. Creative fields love to celebrate their geniuses. We put them in magazine covers. We tell and retell their stories. We write books and make movies about them. But it’s just not true.
I remember reading this story about a tower a group of people were building that would reach up to the heavens. God looked down and said, “if they speak with one voice (a common language), nothing will be impossible for them.” Now, I’m not advocating building towers to the sky, but when you are needing to develop ideas, a group of people, in a room having a conversation – preferably facilitated by someone who knows how – is a good thing. And not just good, but a “nothing is impossible” kind of good thing.
1. Better organized brainstorming leads to better ideas.
2. Collaboration is key when innovating.
Sean writes weekly about the intersection of Retail, Media & Brands. To get his weekly SMACK Talk newsletter, sign-up here. And if you want to read what Sean’s been reading this week, then let him know (via LinkedIn) and he’ll add you to his Weekend Read featuring the top articles from around the web this week with a bit (or a lot) of his commentary. Finally, if you are a brand selling to Walmart (or another retailer) and are interested to see how advertising with SMACK Media can grow your business, then please contact Sean at email@example.com.