Brainstorming Alone is Better

Imagine you just landed a client who is seeking your guidance in producing a launch party for a new product.  They are trusting that you and your team to take full creative control. You gather your team, break out the coffee and snacks, and let the brainstorming begin. Twenty minutes later, they’re talking circus animals and fog machines; you are convinced this will be the party of the year.

Hold up. “Don’t we have any other ideas?”, you wonder. Now that you think about it, lions and elephants are probably not allowed in the Hilton. Plus, you had some good ideas prior to this meeting, but you did not get a chance to share.

Sometimes working in a group is not the best approach. But how will you know if it will be better to say, “BREAK!” and take some time to brainstorm alone?

In the article “Groupthink: The Brainstorming Myth”, from The New Yorker, Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University says, “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.” In other words, it is better for your team to brainstorm alone before sharing together.  Overall, the sheer number of total ideas will be greater and your team will have more options to choose from.

Brainstorming groups can make individuals less creative. You may have experienced walking into a meeting with a brilliant idea, but having that idea trumped by others who are promoting their own ideas. Or even just hearing someone else talk interferes with the great thoughts in your head. Group members can also fall victim to “groupthink”, or poor-decision making caused by individuals striving to conform to the group and avoid conflict.

Of course there are contexts where hashing things out as a group is effective, like developing complex solutions to problems. But when it comes to creative brainstorming, and generating unique ideas, thinking solo may be best.

So before you gather to determine a theme, decide on decor, or even name specialty cocktails, ask your team to create a preliminary idea list to share at your brainstorming session, as to make sure every member’s creative potential is being reached.

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One Response to “Brainstorming Alone is Better”

  1. Mario

    Found your site via a friend Frank Gruber of Tech Cocktail. I was researching for event planners for a SXSW 2014 idea, I have. Noticed I said “I” 🙂

    I love this post and did exactly the wrong thing last week inviting everyone to brainstorm. We did good BUT I want us to do GREAT – so Im implementing your “brainstorm alone” and come to share approach. Cant wait to put that in play!


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