At our company retreat in January, we did a groupthink exercise using Seth Godin’s post on “optimistic enthusiasm as a form of realism” and Mark Schaefer’s post on “The best creativity technique known to mankind” as our inspiration. Everyone wrote their “big idea” about how we can grow our business in 2012 on a piece of easel paper taped to the wall. We then traveled around the room, building upon each other’s ideas. We also got creative juices flowing by asking an off-the-wall question about what would happen if the idea had to be executed underwater. At the end of the exercise, the original idea generator got back to his/her paper and circled the “best” idea.
Approximately 40% of the ideas circled were the underwater idea, proving that when people think out of the box, it can spark interesting new approaches. It also supported the theory that creativity happens when people work alone but as part of a larger group where they know ideas will be shared.
This exercise was focused on BlissPR internally, but we do the same thing when we are groupthinking for a client. The account team gets together to brainstorm and often invites a few folks who don’t work on the client to bring fresh perspective. Ideally those people receive a brief in advance so they can think about the account on their own and come to the meeting armed with some good ideas that aren’t limited by the team that knows the client inside and out. Spontaneous brainstorms can yield good ideas but we have found that scheduled sessions, when people have time to think on their own first, produce better results. This is productive for generating both external and internal communications ideas. It is also important to keep these meetings as small as possible.
While our company culture cherishes initiative, inspiration and ideas shared by all, we may not always be practicing the most effective brainstorming techniques. There have been numerous studies on the topic that show the most ideas come from people who brainstorm alone and later pool their ideas. Further, when ideas are debated, and dare I say “criticized,” in groupthink exercises, it elicits by far the most creative ideas. After brainstorming in a group that fosters a healthy debate, those individuals produce more ideas than other groups. According to a New Yorker article citing Charlan Nemeth, a UCal Berkeley psych professor, it seems “even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them expands creative potential, causing people to come up with more original and thoughtful ideas.”
Other thought leaders, like organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham, think companies are insane to use brainstorming groups since research shows individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quantity and quality, as a recent New York Times article reminded us. One exception to the research is electronic brainstorming because it is a place we can be “alone together.”
How will your company capture the next great marketing idea?