Brainstorming tips for bias-free group ideas – Business Daily
Imagine a scenario where the board of directors in your organisation tasks you with coming up with the next five-year strategic plan. Excited at the opportunity, you scramble to put together a competent team of colleagues to press forward in the days and weeks ahead and compose a coherent meaningful organisational roadmap.
Often an early activity in strategic planning involves visioning exercises and imagining a preferred future for the entity. Teams start off brainstorming in a conference room or on a group retreat. Ideas are listed and contemplated. But starting off with such group work and without mindfulness of biases may hinder the best ideas from surfacing.
Prolific organisational psychologist Adam Grant warns against launching idea generation activities with group meetings and brainstorming activities.
He advocates for team members to be given individual time to proactively come up with their own ideas and then later come together in the group to assess concepts. Team dynamics often silence good ideas and stifle creativity.
What specifically causes group brainstorming to be less effective? First, Keith Sawyer’s work shows that creativity and innovation occur more from deep introspective observation and thought rather than collective sharing or working in teams.
In our own individual quiet surroundings, unique paradigm-shifting ideas flow more easily and completely. Group brainstorming, instead, helps refine and operationalise ideas.
Second, as teams search for novel new ideas and solutions, Runa Korde and Paul Paulus’ research highlights how group brainstorming holds a surprisingly negative impact on the flexibility of ideas. Whereas a hybrid approach of individual brainstorming accompanied by group brainstorming does not harm flexibility.
Different research from Merim Bilalić, Peter McLeod, and FernandGobet shows how humans have a tendency to hold on to and linger over our first solution that we generate.
Even if we brainstorm individually or collectively, whatever our first idea will remain our favourite despite better ideas coming in later ideation stages. Scientists call this bias for first idea as the Einstellung effect. It prevents better solutions from being found.
The implications of the pernicious Einstellung effect hold far-reaching consequences beyond just our organisational board rooms and management strategic planning sessions. It exposes some of the worst biases humans retain in an aspirational modern evidence-based society.
It delineates why even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, voters in democracies often cling to their first positive impressions of a candidate based on their party affiliation.
Additionally, scientists suffer from confirmation bias by stopping to dig deeper into experimental data once they find a solution that fits their perceived paradigm instead of searching for models that may explain phenomena more precisely.
How do work teams overcome the plethora of bad brainstorming approaches described above? First, conduct brainstorming activities individually. Write down a whole list of ideas, but do not number them first, second, third, etc.
Instead, place them all over a page from the corners to the edges to the centre so that your brain removes the top-down hierarchy and primacy of the ideas. Second, take a break from brainstorming for at least two hours.
The break gives your subconscious mind time to ruminate and ponder ideas unbeknownst to your conscious thinking. Third, brainstorm individually again with the benefit of the first brainstorming and then the pause.
Fourth, have the team come together and refine ideas. Since humans hold strong pro and anti-biases against colleagues, have the ideas shared anonymously on post-it notes on the wall, mind mapping software, or through visual sharing platforms such as Menti.com.
Fifth, the group gives initial feedback on each idea. Make sure that each concept is shared for exactly the same amount of time. No team member should be allowed to talk more than other team members.
Group dynamics often result in the loudest most belligerent employee getting his or her way instead of the preferred reality of the best idea winning the argument.
Sixth, recognise biases that may be playing a part in our decision-making. Make a list of those biases in the team and specifically contemplate whether any have played a part in our preferences. Seventh, then based on the bias checklist, re-conceptualise ideas and solutions beyond the biases. Eighth, select the final solution.