Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 19, Issue 8;   February 20, 2019: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: I

Brainstorming and Speedstorming: I

by

Last updated: February 25, 2019

Recent research suggests that brainstorming might not be as effective as we would like to believe it is. An alternative, speedstorming, might have some advantages for some teams solving some problems.
A group engaged in a brainstorm

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 ideas
Speed 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.

Next time we'll compare brainstorming and speedstorming to determine their suitability for different kinds of problems and different group situations.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II  Next Issue

Leading Virtual Meetings for Real ResultsAre 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!

Footnotes

[Brown 2002]
Vincent R. Brown and Paul B. Paulus. "Making Group Brainstorming More Effective: Recommendations From an Associative Memory Perspective," Current Directions in Psychological Science 11:6, 208-212, 2002. Available here. Back
[Hey 2009]
Jonathan H. G. Hey, Caneel K. Joyce, Kyle E. Jennings, Thomas Kalil, and Jeffrey C. Grossman. "Putting the Discipline in Interdisciplinary: Using Speedstorming to Teach and Initiate Creative Collaboration in Nanoscience," Journal of Nano Education 1, 75-85, 2009. Available here. Back

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:

The Fram, Amundsen's shipBreaking the Rules
Many outstanding advances are due to those who broke rules to get things done. And some of those who break rules get fired or disciplined. When is rule breaking a useful tactic?
A 1928 Ford Model A Business CoupeClueless on the Concept
When a team member seems not to understand something basic and important, setting him or her straight risks embarrassment and humiliation. It's even worse when the person attempting the "straightening" is wrong, too. How can we deal with people we believe are clueless on the concept?
XP-80 prototype Lulu-Belle on the groundNew 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.
A diagrammatic representation of the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant in Boston HarborProblem Displacement and Technical Debt
The term problem displacement describes situations in which solving one problem creates another. It sometimes leads to incurring technical debt. How? What can we do about it?
Srinivasa RamanujanLinear Thinking Bias
When assessing the validity of problem solutions, we regard them as more valid if their discovery stories are logical, than we would if they're other than logical. This can lead to erroneous assessments, because the discovery story is not the solution.

See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

What an implicit interrogation can look likeComing November 27: Implicit Interrogations
Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations? Available here and by RSS on November 27.
Benches at the beachAnd on December 4: Implicit Interrogation Tactics
When one person tries surreptitiously to extract information from another at work, an implicit interrogation is taking place. Here are seven tactics that people use to interrogate others without revealing what they're doing. Available here and by RSS on December 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

Reprinting this article

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

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The
Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.