GROUP BRAINSTORMING DOESN'T WORK? REALLY? I BELIEVE IT DOES
Once in a while I check out Ben Casnocha's blog. He's a high school student and entrepreneur that started a couple companies. The most recent one is Comcate, a CRM provider for local governments. Very cool and amazing that he's started at such a young age. I met him a few months back at an event through my colleague, Valerie, who jokes around that he's her boyfriend (she's married). Ben is mature for his age and seems grounded.
Anyway, he had an interesting post, "Group Brainstorming Doesn't Work; Be Creative on Your Own," and a link to a post and research study at The British Psychological Society's blog titled, "Why do we still believe in group brainstorming?"
Time and again research has shown that people think of more new ideas on their own than they do in a group. The false belief that people are more creative in groups has been dubbed by psychologists the "illusion of group of productivity."
While there may be some truth in the statement above, my past experiences tell me that brainstorming is an effective tool but most effective in a controlled environment. I'm guessing these various studies that found group brainstorming to be less effective were set up by psychologists that never really used brainstorming as a tool nor know the difference between 5 random people versus 5 focused technology entrepreneurs :) Of course if you pick from a random sample set you'll encounter all types of variables that will decrease the effectiveness of brainstorming... freerider problem or completely useless group members, lack of trust and comfort, motivation issues, etc.
Here are my comments on Ben's Blog for you lazy people :)
I believe the study is flawed. They were asking a sample set of students to perform a task most of them weren't capable or trained to effectively tackle. It's like asking a high school football team to run the Colt's offense within a week, and expect great execution for their Friday night game.
Brainstorming is a tool, so it depends on the structure (i.e. who's moderating), chemistry (i.e. strength of team, comfort level within the group), individuals involved, and probably a few other factors I'm missing.
If each person is committed to the process to effectively brainstorm for 20-30 minutes on a topic (I believe periods of 30 minutes or longer have proven to show decline in creative output), results can be productive.
There are studies and even simulation games that have proven groups consistently outthink and perform an individual's effort.
I agree with some of the previous comments that one good method is to individually brainstorm and then come together in a group. Jumping off other people's ideas to create a whole new idea is what I typically experience.
The brainstorming process to generate ideas is like the editing process for me. It's a tool that I use to either generate new ideas and get out of a deadend, or just to refine my existing idea. Also I prefer to work with certain editors that I click well with, and there are a handful of people I would brainstorm with if given the choice.