Ideas and groups, or, whaddya think?

Hutch Carpenter reports on some research looking at whether a better ideas emerge from people in group sessions, or from people working independently.  His conclusion: “[R]esearch says that companies would be better off if employees had a way of coming up with ideas on their own, not in group meetings.”

Hutch points out that it’s not clear-cut. The MIT Sloan Management Review, for example, says:

Strictly speaking, the traditional brainstorming groups consistently came up with the very best idea — and the very worst one, too. In other words, the quality of their results varied much more than those that came out of the hybrid groups that combined individual and group idea generation. However, the hybrid groups produced more ideas that were, on average, of higher quality. Nonetheless “for the very best idea, you need to have a pure brainstorming group,” notes Girotra. “Random interactions are likely to produce better-quality ideas.”

(You can read the article or download the INSEAD research paper here.)

At the same time, traditional brainstorming is susceptible to groupthink, which my dictionary cheerfully describes as a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.

Thank God, there’s none of that in the blogosphere. No “what he said,” no echo chamber.

Hutch presents a model for “enterprise 2.0” (Click the image for a larger version.)

While I wish we’d find a way to talk about this stuff without sticking a “2.0” after everything, Hutch does show the potential in harnessing technology to generate lots of ideas, and — especially interesting — using technology to help filter those ideas.

I’m not completely convinced that tags, favorites, voting will necessarily mean that “the most useful stuff floats to the top,” but I certainly don’t see those as a hindrance.

“The key to getting the best of both worlds,” Hutch says, ” – more ideas of better quality, identification of the top ideas – is to create a culture where ideas are rapidly created and evaluated, while also letting advocates gestate their ideas to fix areas of weakness.”

That makes a lot of sense.  For one thing, I’m pretty iterative; my ideas get better when I have the chance to revisit them, to reexamine them after letting them incubate a bit. All along, I thought I was second-guessing myself, but really, I was gestating.

In two weeks I’ll be part of a group session grappling with the start of a large training project.  I’m hoping to find opportunities to increase the group’s effectiveness with tools other than Word and PowerPoint.