Brainstorming, as practiced in its various forms, has achieved widespread acceptance as a tool for solving problems creatively. Recent research now suggests that the yield of brainstorming sessions isn't much better than the results of just asking all participants to generate ideas not in a formal session but in whatever way they wish [Brown 2002]. Explanations for this finding differ, and I suspect that a consensus explanation has yet to emerge. In the meantime, people who must solve difficult problems need an approach of some kind, and it's up to them to fashion or adopt whatever method they think will work.
Because of ongoing debate about measuring the effectiveness of brainstorming, there is at least some doubt about these recent findings. A metric such as ideas generated per unit time seems on its face to ignore other benefits, like strengthening interpersonal relationships, or disseminating organizational knowledge, to name just two. But for now, let's accept that brainstorming might not be the "one best way" to create ideas. Because examining alternatives might be worthwhile, I looked at one that goes by the name speedstorming.
In a brainstorming session, there is a facilitator, a scribe, and a group of up to 20 or 25 participants. In my experience, groups above 15 might need an additional scribe. The group addresses an issue captured in a problem statement. Participants contribute ideas that might relate to a solution, either in turns or at random, as the scribe records the contributions. Brainstorming might not
be the "one best way"
to create ideasSpeed is important, and no idea is too crazy. The most important rule of brainstorming is that evaluation of ideas is banned.
In speedstorming, contributors work in pairs, recording the ideas their own pair generates [Hey 2009]. To support a group of, say, 20, the room is equipped with ten pairs of chairs. The pairs are arranged far enough apart to enable each pair of participants to converse without hampering its neighbors. One chair of each pair is designated for a Stationary participant, and the other for a Mobile participant. Each pair of chairs is labeled in some ordered way, numerically or alphabetically. The session begins with a problem statement, as in brainstorming, and then each pair of participants generates a set of contributions. After a short time, of order five or ten minutes, everyone seated in a Mobile chair moves to the Mobile chair of the next station in order, and the new pairs begin work. It's a little like speed dating. At the end of the session, the group compiles all contributions from all pairs. In a group of 20, there will be 190 unique pairs. One hundred of them will be covered by the process above, which omits pairing members of the Mobile group with each other (45 pairs in this example), and members of the Stationary group with each other (45 pairs).
So that's how the two structures work, mechanically. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
One difference between these two approaches is their degree of parallelism. In brainstorming, when one participant makes a contribution, and the scribe records it, all other participants must wait. Contributions are thus captured serially. In speedstorming, because each pair works independently, all pairs work in parallel. The rate of contribution generation in speedstorming is therefore much higher than in brainstorming.
But there's another very important consequence of the difference in structures of these two methods. When one person makes a contribution, it can trigger new ideas on the part of the rest of the participants (in brainstorming) or on the part of the contributor's partner (in speedstorming). In brainstorming, some of these triggered ideas are lost because people might need to wait to get a chance to comment to the group. That doesn't happen in speedstorming, because each conversation is between only two people. Triggered ideas are then much more likely to be captured in speedstorming.
Are your virtual meetings plagued by inattentiveness, interruptions, absenteeism, and a seemingly endless need to repeat what somebody just said? Do you have trouble finding a time when everyone can meet? Do people seem disengaged and apathetic? Or do you have violent clashes and a plague of virtual bullying? Read Leading Virtual Meetings for Real Results to learn how to make virtual meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot shorter. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenKfhFJtZEexSvHDKDner@ChacDSsOpVcqjIXKWgAnoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Should I Keep Bailing or Start Plugging the Leaks?
- When we're flooded with problems, and the rowboat is taking on water, we tend to bail with buckets,
rather than take time out to plug the leaks. Here are some tips for dealing with floods of problems.
- New Ideas: Generation
- When groups work together to solve problems, they employ three processes repeatedly: they generate ideas,
they judge those ideas, and they experiment with those ideas. We first examine idea generation.
- Reactance and Decision-Making
- Some decisions are easy. Some are difficult. Some decisions that we think will be easy turn out to be
very, very difficult. What makes decisions difficult?
- Solutions as Found Art
- Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they
aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways.
Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
- Clearing Conflict Fog
- At times, groups can become so embroiled in destructive conflict that conventional conflict resolution
becomes ineffective. How does this happen? What can we do about it?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 27: Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can chairs do about stone-throwers? Available here and by RSS on March 27.
- And on April 3: Career Opportunity or Career Trap: I
- When we're presented with an opportunity that seems too good to be true, as the saying goes, it probably is. Although it's easy to decline free vacations, declining career opportunities is another matter. Here's a look at indicators that a career opportunity might be a career trap. Available here and by RSS on April 3.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHaACiOjztZntUGdWner@ChacjQsoRVvnJoVcgksBoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.