Brain with ideas coursing through it like lightning

Collaboration, Innovation and Branding: Is Brainstorming Effective?

In Brand Solutions by Distility2621 Comments

At Distility, we believe that the best brands are the result of real commitment by an organization’s people to a brand’s promise, position and personality and to the brand systems representing that brand. We do this through Distility 1day1brand which we developed to combine best practices in collaborative decision making and best practices in branding. In fact, our innovations are the subject of patent applications under the catchy title “Method for Visualizing the Collective Opinion of a Group”. Consequently, collaboration enhancements and best practices are often on our minds.

This post shares three of our tips to improve your team’s collaboration and key takeaways from two pieces on the pitfalls of traditional group brainstorming session. We caution that, unlike the two pieces distilled below, we still see value in brainstorming as a tool but we advocate an enhanced brainstorming approach (equivalent to a brainstorming 5.0 as opposed to the less effective brainstorming 1.0).

3 Tips to Improve Collaboration

While great collaboration is often the result of many factors, here are three things that have been shown to enhance innovation and creative output.

  1. Physical proximity and interaction has been shown to be an important aspect of true innovative breakthroughs. This is a big reason that we hold our brand strategy sessions as an in-person workshop.
  2. Brainstorming is only one idea generation approach. Even enhanced brainstorming 5.0 should only be one tool in your collaboration toolkit. Brainstorming works best when people have some quiet time to come up with ideas and then have the group share, evaluate and discuss ideas. While creative tension is important, it is important not to squash input and idea generation. At Distility in our workshops, we focus on promotion of good ideas (instead of focusing on killing bad ideas).
  3. Groups can get stale. Bringing in an outside facilitator with their own domain expertise to work with a cross-functional team from your organization can make a dramatic difference. An outside facilitator also frees up your team members to more fully participate and not have to act as de facto facilitator.

Key Ingredients to Successful Collaboration and Innovation

The recent article “Groupthink, the Brainstorming Myth” by Jonah Lehrer in the January 30, 2012 edition of the New Yorker and the older PsyBlog post Brainstorming Reloaded provide insights into how to foster successful collaboration. While neither piece provide the magic bullet to use to kill Groupthink and other collaborative decision making pathologies, there are some useful takeaways which we have summarized below.

From the article “Groupthink, the Brainstorming Myth”, there are four key takeaways:

  1. Brainstorming is well known approach to generating ideas and problem solving.  Alex Osborn of the B.B.D.O. advertising agency first described the brainstorming approach in his 1948 book, “Your Creative Power”. While it is still a really popular approach, empirical studies have actually found that a group brainstorming ideas is less effective than one person working alone. It turns out that there needs to be a certain amount of creative tension, criticism or different perspectives for groups to be at their creative best.
  2. The brainstorming edict to not criticize brainstormed ideas may actually work against creativity and innovation.  The author notes that: “Criticism allows people to dig below the surface of the imagination and come up with collective ideas that aren’t predictable.”
  3. Research has shown that creative teams can be too familiar and get stale once they have worked together for too long. Collaboration can be enhanced when a team includes new members (or facilitators), people from different disciplines and with different backgrounds.
  4. Physical spaces can help foster creative friction and sparks of insight. Amazing innovations have resulted from spontaneous and repeated interactions between people from disparate fields. To make this happen, physical proximity can act like a “magical incubator” for ideas.

The PsyBlog post Brainstorming Reloaded notes that “[e]xperiment after experiment has shown that people in brainstorming sessions produce fewer and lower quality ideas than those working alone” and summarizes the poor brainstorming results as a result of:

  • social loafing (slacking off in group situations),
  • evaluation apprehension (ultimately people realize that their ideas will be scrutinized), and
  • production blocking (while one participant is talking or sharing their ideas, other participants must wait and stop producing ideas).

PsyBlog suggests some ways to improve brainstorming sessions. The two key ideas are that:

  1. Group collaboration will be enhanced if participants prepare ideas in advance;
  2. The best use of group time is in evaluation and discussion of ideas, rather than initial idea generation.