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It is rare that I disagree completely with articles written about brainstorming, but in this case I’m making an exception!

In a Harvard Business Review article, Art Markman claims that in a brainstorming session, working alone is better than working in a group. If working alone is truly a better option and produced better ideas, why have people get together at all?

Brainstorming is Best in Small Teams

Brainstorming alone often feels, to paraphrase Churchill, like standing in a bucket and trying to lift yourself by the handles. It can be a lonely and listless experience. No volleying ideas with partners. No yakking it up with teammates. No high-fives or shout-outs.

In my experience, the most productive brainstorming sessions unfold not when you are working alone, and not when you are working in one large group, but rather when everyone works in small teams. The ideal number of people in a small team is five.

Small teams allow guests to interact with each other on their own terms. The small team structure also taps into our sense of competition. Please don’t get me wrong – I never pit teams against each other, or suggest that one team’s ideas are better than another’s. It just happens. It’s the way we are wired. And ultimately in a brainstorming session, it means that everyone is giving it their best shot.

Tips for Better Brainstorming

To be fair to Markman, he does make a couple of points in his article that I do agree with: take your time, and draw.

It is the facilitator’s job to ensure that everyone doesn’t sprint to the finish line too quickly. All ideas have value and need to be carefully explored. In fact, after all the ideas have been captured and transcribed, it is best to let them simmer for 24 hours before making any sort of evaluation.

And, yes, yes, yes… Draw as much as you can!

A picture is truly worth a thousand words. Most of us are visual learners, so drawing is an incredibly valuable tool when expressing ideas. That’s why graphic recorders like Liisa Sorsa add so much value to brainstorming sessions.

Please take a look at the article and let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear your views! Share them in the comments below.

See Marilyn Live!

Are you attending ALIGNED 2017? Don’t miss Marilyn’s upcoming presentation, Strengthening Ties with Retailers, and participate in her highly interactive brainstorming event!