Imagine you’re leading a brainstorming session at your company. You want to come up with growth strategies, so you gather your team in a meeting room, generate lots of ideas, and choose the most promising one. Like many SME owners, you think this is the best move. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t work. In fact, it makes your team less creative.
Here’s the real truth: group problem solving can be extremely effective, but only if it’s done right – and the usual method is disastrous.
Generating ideas together doesn’t work because group members influence each other’s suggestions.
Your brain solves a problem by retrieving relevant memories that might lead to a novel solution. When someone else suggests an idea, your mind limits itself to related memories, eliminating ideas you might have considered and impeding the creative process.
An effective group brainstorm circumvents that trap. It includes a four-step process that promotes creativity and independent thought.
1. Think independently. First, ask each person to generate their own ideas before the group comes together. Individuals working alone will explore a broader range of ideas, and they’ll each have a fair shot at bringing their best work to the table.
2. Share all ideas. Next, ask each person to submit their best ideas. Compile them in one document then send them to the group. This way, everyone is exposed to a wide range of ideas, including suggestions that might have been overlooked in a meeting.
3. Review separately. Before you meet in a group, ask each person to take notes on the other ideas. Have them look for the potential advantages of each idea or solutions to potential problems. Early on, you don’t want people criticising too much though, because this closes off every idea that looks new.
4. Discuss together. Finally, it’s time to bring the group in for the brainstorm. Ask each person to suggest ideas that seem the most promising, then debate the pros and cons. Because each person reviewed the ideas independently, you’ll have a more fruitful discussion.
If one person thinks they see a flaw in the idea, then someone else can be an advocate for it. You may be able to get around an issue even if it’s a valuable criticism.