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Brainstorming is broken, try this method instead

Brainstorming is one of the most used methods nowadays. Companies use it to find “creative solutions” to problems. Startups to find new features to build. And teams to find their next team-building activity.

A method as widespread as brainstorming should be powerful, right? Or are we part of a big misunderstanding?

According to a meta-analysis*, it’s leaning more towards the second option:

Generally, brainstorming groups are significantly less productive than nominal groups, in terms of both quantity and quality.

* meta-analysis: An analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies

So what’s the problem with brainstorming? A few things:

First, there is a tendency for people to make less effort when they are working in teams than alone. As individuals, we feel less obligation to do something when we know other people might do it.

Second, people worry about the perception of their ideas by others. This is especially true for individuals in groups with more experienced team members. These individuals think of their ideas as inferior and prefer to keep quiet to avoid embarrassment.

Finally, the bigger the group, the harder it is to give everyone their share of time as extroverted people have tendency to monopolize time.

With all these problems, there got a be a better option right? Yes, inspired by remote work.

What to do instead of brainstorming

Here’s how remote teams approach brainstorming:

  1. Define a brainstorming lead (called “lead” afterwards).
  2. The lead shares the purpose of the brainstorming session via an asynchronous post. It can be a Slack message, a P2 post, a Twist thread… The lead needs to describe the problem, give the desired end goal, and a time limit for submitting ideas.
  3. Each brainstorming participant needs to come up with at least 2-3 ideas on their own. Participants submit ideas via DMs or a form, so folks don’t get inspired by other answers.
  4. The lead writes down all ideas gathered. They also remove duplications and merge look-alike responses. Finally, the lead shares the final list with everyone.
  5. Provide a day or two to participants to pick their favorite ideas, or even come up with new ideas inspired by the list.
  6. Lead makes a final most-voted list of ideas then schedules a short call to present the results and start the work.

This is not your typical 1-2h brainstorming session. This takes time but provides the results you are looking for: Solid ideas to solve a particular problem.

This async way of doing brainstorming will not give you better results only, but also gives more time to your team to do their work.

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