I was surprised to find an article in a leading innovation journal that summarized a recent research paper on brainstorming. The summary stated that in contrast to most past studies this one showed that group ideation may reduce the number of ideas but it produced some of the best ones.
Fifty years of careful experiments have shown conclusively that group brainstorming reduces
- the number of ideas and
- the average quality of ideas
generated compared with individual interviews or brainstorming. In short, group brainstorming kills ideas.
Focus groups as well … when it comes to creating or ranking ideas
I am reworking an article on customer research for innovation. The empirical evidence about the use of group methods is truly overwhelming: hundreds of studies over the past 50 years and multiple reviews and meta-analyses of the empirical results show that individual interviews or individuals brainstorming alone are superior to brainstorming groups or focus groups in generating ideas, measured by:
- Quantity of ideas and
- Average QUALITY of ideas.
The new study
Therefore I went to the new study with keen interest. It turns out that the journal was 100% wrong — the study (Girotra et. al, working paper) was fully consistent with all of the past research. (Always go to the source — don’t trust the review.) The study was interesting because it took the results several steps further.
Group methods (compared to individual ideation):
- Produce significantly fewer ideas
- Generate ideas of lower average quality
- Produce fewer of the very best ideas, and
- In addition, groups are not effective at evaluating or ranking generated ideas.
The paper found that add-on ideas building on others ideas were generally lower quality than individual ideas. In short group ideation stinks.
An earlier version of the working paper is posted at:
I will post my working paper in a future posting.