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An alternative to traditional brainstorming, better results, less group dynamic

An alternative to traditional brainstorming, better results, less group dynamic

By Rikus Grobler,, [email protected].

I am still on the topic of brainstorming. In the previous delivery I discussed the foundational rules of brainstorming, listed some of the main criticisms against brainstorming and also gave some pointers on how these “weak spots” of brainstorming can be resolved.

I am of the opinion that most of the reasons why brainstorming as a technique does not work are usually due to wrong application of the technique, mostly facilitators not knowing what they’re doing and participants breaking the rules. I still believe it is a great technique to use to generate ideas and solutions to problems, and I am in good company, – respected though leaders in innovation also support this technique.

However, as an innovator, one must be able to view both (or many) sides of a problem, live with ambiguity, and be comfortable with change and disruption. So I want to discuss an alternative to traditional brainstorming, to give you another option if you are not a fan of traditional brainstorming.

Hybrid Brainstorming vs Team Brainstorming

If you think about it, innovation always starts with a problem or an opportunity, and an idea on how to solve the problem or exploit the opportunity. Ideas are generated by people, and hence the alternative to brainstorming is based on the argument that individuals generate more ideas on their own than in groups. The phenomenon has been researched (as reported by Hutch Carpenter), so let us look at the results.

Three researchers from the INSEAD and Wharton business schools conducted a field experiment in which they compared two models of generating ideas: Team structure: Group works together at the same time together in a room to generate ideas, and Hybrid structure: Individuals generate their ideas independently, then meet together in a group.

The subjects were given two challenges to generate ideas on, and the idea generation exercises were conducted as follows: Team structure: 30 minutes together in a room to generate ideas together. Then 5 minutes of assessing and selecting the best 5 ideas. Hybrid structure: 10 minutes of generating ideas on their own. Then 20 minutes of discussing these and new ideas. Finally, 5 minutes of assessing and selecting the best 5 ideas. The results were analysed and compared on the number of ideas generated, the quality of the ideas generated, and the ratings of the ideas.

Without going into the detail, the results were as follows: The hybrid structure produced: More ideas; Ideas of better quality on average; and the Highest rated ideas. For those who are interested in the detail, you can find the study here:

This is just one study, and as with every study the validity and the reliability can be challenged (and for this study it was), but it does give one something to think about on a different approach to “traditional” brainstorming based on the team structure.

So why do I continue to push the benefits of team brainstorming?

There are two primary arguments.

The first is that brainstorming is a skill that needs to be developed. My argument is that companies should bring in qualified and experienced facilitators to support brainstorming sessions. The research does show that facilitated brainstorming groups do match the performance of individuals working on their own. But most companies don’t have access to trained facilitators, and it’s hard to justify the cost of bringing one in since companies can get the same outcome by having people generate ideas individually.

The second argument is that the collaborative benefits of brainstorming outweigh the loss in creative output, i.e. I like the fact that brainstorming brings people together. It helps people feel like they are a part of the process, and it is definitely more fun, and who does not want to have more fun at work!

Next Time

I have laid out an alternative process to traditional brainstorming and argued the merit of both sides. So now it is up to you to make the decision, or experiment with both and see what works best in your organisation.

I spoke about idea generation at length in the last number of deliveries, but something has to be done about ideas, so from here on I will focus on execution.

I conclude with a quote from Anais Nin: “My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.”


About The Author

Rikus Grobler

Dr Rikus Grobler is a Namibian academic, inventor, entrepreneur, public speaker, and business consultant who specializes in the development of the innovation capability of companies and individuals. He holds degrees in Engineering and Law and has an MBA and a Ph.D. in Business Administration. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) of the Project Management Institute (PMI), and he has also completed studies in design thinking and intellectual property management. An experienced professional with a background in manufacturing, information technology, tertiary education, research, consulting, and financial services, Dr. Grobler has been involved in innovation management for the past ten years and currently holds the position of Manager: Innovation for the Capricorn Group in Namibia. He is particularly interested in creativity, innovation, and invention.

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