The British Psychological Society has a blog, kept by Dr. Christian Jarrett. A friend mentioned the recent Why do we still believe in group brainstorming? that describes the "illusion of group productivity."
So you need some fresh, innovative ideas. What do you do? Get a group of your best thinkers together to bounce ideas of each other…? No, wrong answer. Time and again research has shown that people think of more new ideas on their own than they do in a group.
The article references studies by Bernard Nijstad. Here are some fun aspects of this illusion
- An individual's "bad ideas" are less obvious in a group because someone else might be coming up with useful ideas.
- Groups feel continuously active, so that when one person is not providing input someone else may be.
- People tend to forget who came up with good ideas and credit themselves with doing the work.
- People like to share in the struggle to come up with good ideas - like to see others struggle.
The rabble-rouser in me thinks this leads down the path to No More Meetings or the destruction of Business As We Know It. But then, there are many people (me included) who actually like interacting with their colleagues and business partners. And there are plenty of people who argue that innovation and creation only happen in the interaction between people. Maybe it is just that brainstorming sessions are sometimes too contrived, and one-on-one sessions in conjunction with solo thinking and discussions in larger groups all contribute to the development of new ideas.