I am interested in innovation in services and goods. Much still has to be learned about the (Fuzzy) front end of innovation: Where do good ideas come from? How do you gather information from users? How do you evaluate alternative ideas?
Not group brainstorming or focus groups — they kill
One technique that has been rigorously researched for over 50 years is the use of group brainstorming and user focus groups to generate and evaluate ideas. The evidence of these studies is consistent and conclusive:
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.
Why then are focus groups and group brainstorming still employed to generate ideas from users? I used to believe that charlatans ignored the research and oversold their expert skills at running such groups. But I now realize that there is more to it than that: these group processes create an illusion of effectiveness to everyone involved.
Group Brainstorming and Focus Groups are FUN
Participants enjoy the process, believe that they individually are personally responsible for most of the ideas produced, believe that the group was creative and very effective, and leave the effort committed to the ideas generated. There actually is value to an organization of this positive illusion: it is often hard to sell innovation or new ideas to an organization – this enthusiasm can help innovations go forward.
How to combine the bad and the good?
Participants don’t come up with the best ideas but they believe in the ones they do come up with… People already employ techniques to help overcome group idea-cide: for example it is common to have participants individually brainstorm and write down their ideas before starting a group ideation effort.
If I were leading a group brainstorming or focus group for innovative ideas I would start with individual brainstorming, collect all the individual ideas, and then have the brainstorming session. I would either ignore the group ideas or more likely collect them as if they were the ideas of another individual and then separately evaluate all the ideas.
[Of course this puts off the questions of how to evaluate the ideas for another day… research also indicates that groups do a bad job at evaluation…]
Earlier posts on idea-cide from group efforts:
- Brainstorming groups still kill ideas: http://t.co/SdOlJN8
- Confessions of a focus group moderator: http://t.co/xYiFrhi
- Expert moderators and Focus Groups: http://t.co/NRAnso7
I also have an upcoming article in the Journal of Product Innovation Management on this topic. I will post that article when the editor gives me permission. [See http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-5885.2012.00918.x/abstract ]