Brainstorming

Time to think

Why is brainstorming not as effective as you’d like? And how can you improve it?
Francesco | 20.06.16

Imagine this: people are sitting around a table, the problem statement has been explained and one brave soul breaks the ice with their first idea. Other people start to modify and expand on it and then start to suggest new ideas. It’s stressful and time consuming, but it’s the most productive way to generate ideas isn’t it? I’ve just described almost every brainstorming session - so where's the problem?

Traditional brainstorming is not as effective as it is meant to be. It is not the most powerful way to unleash creativity. There are many reasons why brainstorming fails to live up to its promises, including evaluation apprehension and free-riding, but the public enemy #1 of brainstorming is production blocking (Diehl & Stroebe, 1987; Nijstad, Stroebe, & Lodewijkx, 2003).

Production Blocking

Production blocking is a set of cognitive problems caused by the procedural mechanism of brainstorming. This mechanism clashes with how our attention system works. We haven’t evolved to do it. Actively listening to other people and trying to come up with novel ideas compete for the same cognitive resources.

So, if you pay attention to what others say, you'll be able to kick in with some clever comments and build upon others ideas, but your ability to create genuine, new ideas and solutions will be seriously limited.

It's like playing whac-a-mole with ideas: each time somebody speaks, a new idea that was trying to come out of the hole gets hammered down. Ouch, not really what you are aiming for when brainstorming!

Conversely, you can concentrate on your own idea production, but at the cost of not being effective in the group discussion, which in a social situation easily comes across as if you don't care about other people’s efforts. Ouch again, this is a lose-lose situation.

What people usually do is try to multitask, continuously shifting attention from other people’s voices to their own idea generation - which results in both tasks getting done poorly. We’ve known for a while that humans aren’t great at multitasking (Kahneman, 1973; Salvucci & Taatgen, 2008).

Time to think

With the production blocking problem in mind, we have developed the Neonce method. It’s a structured process in which users work together, but have time to think, to generate and refine ideas individually. This way they can dedicate 100% of their imagination and cognitive power to create brilliant and novel ideas, without constant distractions and interruptions.

The first version of Neonce is online, and it’s completely FREE. If your team would benefit from this, we would love to hear from you and you can sign up for a free version here.

This is just one feature of the Neonce method. Curious to see the others?

Read the rest in this 5 part series:

  1. Time to think
  2. No loud voices
  3. Clear structure
  4. Select the best
  5. Unlimited inspiration

References

  • Diehl, M., & Stroebe, W. (1987). Productivity loss in brainstorming groups: Toward the solution of a riddle. Journal of personality and social psychology, 53(3), 497.
  • Kahneman, D. (1973). Attention and effort (p. 246). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Nijstad, B. A., Stroebe, W., & Lodewijkx, H. F. (2003). Production blocking and idea generation: Does blocking interfere with cognitive processes?. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39(6), 531-548.
  • Salvucci, D. D., & Taatgen, N. A. (2008). Threaded cognition: an integrated theory of concurrent multitasking. Psychological review, 115(1), 101.
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