1 July 2015
Five friends enter a restaurant, and debate what to order. This is not the beginning of a joke, rather a familiar situation. The waiter asks around the table and each person orders in turn. The first is still debating, maybe consulting and so is the second. The last person is almost certainly influenced by the first person's order, simply because that's how we as people are programmed: we are attentive to others beside us, feed off their reactions and in many cases adapt ourselves to them merely because it is more pleasant not to be different or bold.
This aforementioned saying is based on Dan Ariely's 'Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions' (HarperCollins, 2008) which taught us the advantages of granting everyone the chance to express ideas independently and not be affected by other's (even subliminally). The result: more creativity.
The situation we have described occurs a lot during brainstorming meetings.
Imagine a situation in which you are facing a large team of participants which is supposed to discuss a problem and figure out how to solve it, and the discussion is…stuck. The expectations, namely to receive diverse and innovative ideas, are not being realized.
Something in the group dynamics is inhibiting the process from actualizing. It might be different levels of motivation. It might be different levels of sharing. Whatever it is, it must be resolved in order for the group to function.
What should we do?
We should use other abilities. There are options other than talking.
Hand out sheets of paper, with space for defining the problem and enough blank space for suggesting ideas for solutions. Every participant in turn adds another idea and passes the page to the participant beside him/her.
And that is, practically speaking, a brainstorming session.
This method allows participants with idea who are hesitant to suggest in a larger group to make them explicit anonymously. The competition element becomes secondary and the need to be heard is expressed differently.
Note: it is important to remember that it is possible that participants experience "blank page syndrome", i.e. the fear from being the first one writing. In order to avoid these cases, it is recommended to prepare an idea in advance so that the participant do not need to start from scratch and can enable the process to flow.
What should we remember?
To define the mission.
To limit each participant's time with the page.
To remind the participants to read what others wrote before them before adding an idea, while encouraging them to feel free to change and/or add.
Where and when is it best to apply the method?
In events with many participants.
In teams in which the participants don't know each other sufficiently and/or feel comfortable together.
In cases in which much information needs to be collected quickly.