Hi, I’m Astrid. I’m an organisational psychologist who specialises in anything innovation, and I’ve been writing about the parallels between innovation and dating. I could have kept going for a very long time, but I’m not so single anymore! So here’s my last episode. Stay tuned though for my new series in which I spill the beans on the psychology of innovation by exploring the secrets of our minds!
So, I’ve met this guy, and now I’m not single anymore. We do a lot of stuff together. It’s nice. We have fun together, tackle problems together, there’s a lot of together happening. It’s like I’ve ‘caught’ the world’s obsession with doing things together! Organisations are a typical example. Every new initiative, or problem that needs solving, results in a group being brought together. They call them teams, groups, committees, workgroups, bodies, networks, steering committees, think tanks, the list is endless. Interestingly, this isn’t always a good idea at all. When it comes to groups working together to come up with ideas, psychology research is very clear. It doesn’t work.
When you compare the ideas that come out of a ‘brainstorming session’ from a group of four people, with the sum of the output of four separate individuals, individuals outperform groups every time. Contrary to popular belief, brainstorming in groups actually reduces the number of ideas, the creativity of ideas and the diversity of ideas. There are a lot of psychological forces at work here. Groups make us feel like we need to perform. Are we saying the ‘right’ creative thing? There are thoughts and ideas that aren’t being shared; level of seniority and level of extraversion are being given disproportionate weighting; there is groupthink; the list is endless.
Diversity of ideas
Does this mean that we shouldn’t work in groups? If only it was that simple! One of the things we know to be absolutely core to creativity, is getting diversity of input. Getting a set of diverse minds together can create outcomes that would never have been created by one person. It’s the X-factor. To get lots of diverse, very creative ideas, you therefore need the best of both worlds. You need to create structures which leverage the benefits of individual performance advantages, whilst also (subsequently) adding the value of the group.
Here’s how you do it:
- Think about the group you are getting together. The diversity of ideas is key. If the people who you are inviting to your session are all pretty much the same (same company, same team, same background), you might as well get everyone to send you ideas over email separately. You’ll end up with better output.
- Always start your session with getting everyone to work individually. Whether you ask people to come up with ideas prior to the session and bring them in, or you let everyone work individually in silence for the first half hour, it is critical to leverage the power of the individual mind (and introverts will love this!). Make sure you get everyone to write down their ideas as they come up with them (as opposed to just try to remember them later!). It will increase the chances of everyone doing the work, and actually sharing it.
- Get the group to work through each idea in a structured way. For example, someone shares their idea, and then everyone works together to improve the idea. This is where you leverage the diverse input of the group. Make sure all good ideas get shared!
So, doing everything together isn’t such a good idea.. What a relief!
If you’d like to chat further about group dynamics, creativity or anything else psychology or innovation related, drop me a line! I’m always up for a chat on email@example.com