Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 19, Issue 9;   February 27, 2019: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II

Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II


Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming.
A pair discussion in a speedstorm

As widely used as brainstorming is, the consequences of any weaknesses it might have can be significant. In last week's edition I described briefly an alternative called speedstorming that addresses some of the potential weaknesses of brainstorming [Hey 2009] [Joyce 2010]. My focus last time was the difference in degree of parallelism between conventional brainstorming and speedstorming. As a reminder, speedstorming has a structure similar to speed dating. Review my brief description.

The structure of speedstorming has consequences that transcend the difference in parallelism. Let's have a look.

Controlling dominant contributors
In brainstorming, some participants might dominate the session. They might be more knowledgeable, or they might just be more gregarious or less inhibited. The quality of their contributions might not justify the share of group time that they take for themselves, but more important, their dominance of the session can result in an unbalanced representation of group creativity. In speedstorming, because each pairing has its own conversation, the effect of dominant contributors is much reduced. And because some people are more comfortable contributing to a one-on-one conversation than they are contributing to a group conversation, the results of the pairings, taken as a whole, can be more representative of group creativity.
One possible result of this difference is that speedstorming can be a more effective structure for eliciting and capturing ideas from those who are non-dominant or reluctant in the large group setting. This can be a noticeable advantage if group members are of widely different organizational rank, social stature, or experience levels, or if they hail from many different cultures. It can be an especially significant advantage if the more creative members of the group happen not to be the dominant members.
Support for virtuality
In brainstorming, The polling approach often used
in virtual brainstorming limits
the participants' ability to build
on previous contributions
if all participants aren't co-located, difficulties can arise relative to deciding who is being called upon to contribute at a given moment. A common solution to this problem is a polling scheme in which the facilitator polls each person in turn for contributions. In speedstorming, each pair can easily converse in a natural and familiar manner, whether or not they're co-located, either by telephone of by video link.
The polling approach often used in virtual brainstorming limits the participants' ability to build on previous contributions, because many other contributions might intervene before the participant is recognized to contribute. In speedstorming, because there are only two people in a pair, the flow of ideas is more natural than it would be for a non-co-located larger group. Moreover, time zone differences in a large group that's dispersed can create difficulties for scheduling brainstorm sessions. In speedstorming, because each pair can have at most two time zones, scheduling is less complicated if the group can permit pairs to meet at times best suited to each pair.
Controlling status competition
Groups of all kinds are vulnerable to status competition, which is a dynamic in which two or more participants compete for status within the group by taking steps that they believe will earn them admiration. It is known that status competition can degrade group performance [Loch 2000], but the effect can be severe in ideation sessions. In ideation sessions, status competition measures take the form of competitive contributions to the flow of ideas. Status competitions are more likely to break out in brainstorming than in speedstorming, because the entire group is assembled in brainstorming, and therefore the status competitors have optimal access to the audience they're trying to impress.
The problem with status competition is that there is no reliable way to maintain alignment between the standards of group admiration for contributions, and the needs of the enterprise. What seems like a clever contribution might not be in keeping with the goals of the ideation exercise. And misalignment is more likely as the status competition intensifies. Only carefully designed cultural architecture can mitigate this risk in brainstorming. In speedstorming, by contrast, the would-be competitors lack access to the group as a whole, because the group isn't assembled. That lack of access reduces the likelihood of competition erupting.
Support for interdisciplinarity
For some problems, finding solutions requires diversity in knowledge, experience, and perspective. When that diversity is such as to cross disciplines, the people contributing to the search for a solution might not know each other well, or might not think in the same terms. Brainstorming throws them all together in the same group, where coming to a shared understanding of the offered contributions can be challenging. In speedstorming, when two members of a pair represent distinct disciplines, they know it, and they can work together to understand each other.
By carefully defining the Mobile group and the Stationary group (see "Brainstorming and Speedstorming: I," Point Lookout for February 20, 2019), the pairings of speedstorming can be arranged to produce what are expected to be fertile combinations. In this way, the team can focus the speedstorm to search in specific combinations of disciplines. If there is a risk of omitting potentially fertile but unrecognized combinations, brainstorming might be safer than speedstorming.

My own experience is that brainstorming is more effective when participants know each other. So if the group includes people who don't know each other well, as might happen for a virtual team or an interdisciplinary problem, speedstorming would seem to provide an important advantage. It would create opportunities for pairs to work together closely, possibly for the first time. For new groups that expect to work together over a period of time, speedstorming might provide a way to improve brainstorming performance. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: A Pain Scale for Meetings  Next Issue

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[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
[Joyce 2010]
Caneel K. Joyce, Kyle E. Jennings, Jonathan Hey, Jeffrey C. Grossman, and Thomas Kalil. "Getting down to business: Using speedstorming to initiate creative cross-disciplinary collaboration," Creativity and Innovation Management 19:1, 57-67, 2010. Available here. Back
[Loch 2000]
Christoph H. Loch, Bernardo A. Huberman, and Suzanne Stout. "Status competition and performance in work groups," Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 43:1, 35-55 2000. Available here. Back

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