In a previous post (Brainstorming for Introverts, Part 1) I talked about the limitations of traditional group brainstorming, which has been shown to be less efficient in gathering ideas than having participants work individually. According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, there are at least three problems with traditional brainstorming: “social loafing” (participants can let someone else carry the load), “production blocking” (only one participant talks at a time), and “evaluation apprehension” (participants don’t want to look dumb). In the earlier post I described a couple of processes that can be used with groups meeting face-to-face to allow all participants to generate ideas simultaneously and share them anonymously.
Now I’d like to propose two more process improvements that move beyond the face-to-face brainstorming session.
First, try online brainstorming. There are software tools that can be used for synchronous (everyone online at the same time) or asynchronous (work when it’s convenient for you) online idea generation, clustering, and prioritizing. In fact, there are online tools for pretty much anything you could do with a group in a room using flipcharts and sticky notes. At Foresight Alliance we’ve done online brainstorming both internally and with clients. Online brainstorming allows simultaneous generation and recording of ideas by all participants and it can provide complete anonymity to participants.
Second, consider processes that combine asynchronous and synchronous work—whether face-to-face or online. We often use such processes among the partners at Foresight Alliance. (We have the “advantage” that we are located in several cities on two continents, so face-to-face brainstorming is seldom an option.) For example, suppose we’ve gathered important trends for a client and we want to generate implications for the client’s organization. We might share the trend inventory with all of the partners and ask each person to come up with three to five key implications. One of us merges everyone’s implications into a single list that is circulated back to the partners (asynchronous process). Then we meet online using conference calling and screen sharing software. We review the merged list, combine similar items, add new implications that occur to us, and create a final list (synchronous process). Then one of us drops the list into a spreadsheet and distributes it for rating and ranking. The person who created the spreadsheet collates and summarizes the results (asynchronous). We may meet again online to discuss the top-rated items and reach final agreement (synchronous). This process allows us to work independently to generate and evaluate ideas, but also provides time for us to discuss them together, build off one another’s work, and reach consensus, while building team collaboration skills.
At Foresight Alliance we’re always looking for ways to work more effectively, both internally and with our clients. We recognize that client teams, like our own team, include both introverts and extroverts. When you want to gather ideas from a group of people, the extrovert’s instinct will be to have a team meeting. The introvert’s instinct will be for each team member to find a quiet place to think. It appears that a combination of both approaches may be the way to go.