The early startup days. Just thinking about it brings a nostalgic grin to my face. Those times were a roller coaster of emotions! Picture this: Fresh out of another major company, buzzing with excitement, I gathered my hand-picked team for what I believed was going to be the brainstorming session. We had it all set up – the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the air, those ridiculously comfy bean bags, scribble boards, even some banging tunes playing in the background. It was the dream environment, or so I thought.

A couple of hours rolled by and instead of a treasure trove of revolutionary ideas, all we got was an utter cacophony of half-baked thoughts and overlapping voices. It was like witnessing a flock of geese trying to decide where to migrate. And then there was Steve, our introverted coding genius, who seemed to be drowning in the noise. Dude looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there. I felt for him, I really did.

Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, Steve, of all people, dropped a bombshell of an idea on Slack. Not only was it brilliant, but it was also simple and actionable. I had an epiphany – were our tried-and-tested group brainstorming methods actually… crap? Had we been doing it all wrong? The stage was set for me to dive deep into the realm of brainstorming, to uncover its secrets and to challenge every darn assumption I had about it.

The Popular Image of Brainstorming

When you hear the term “brainstorming”, what comes to mind? For most, it’s that dreamy vision of a room alive with energy, animated conversations, rapid-fire idea exchanges, and that intoxicating feeling of creating something epic. It’s like a scene out of a movie – you’ve got your peppy marketing person tossing out wild ideas, the logical techie trying to ground everyone, and of course, the token “devil’s advocate” who just loves poking holes in every damn idea. Hell, that’s the image I bought into for the longest time!

There’s something inherently appealing about group work, isn’t there? It’s like going to a party where every person is a note, and together, you’re trying to create a hit single. We’ve been fed this narrative that the more brains you throw at a problem, the better the solutions you’ll get. You know, the whole “two heads are better than one” schtick. And let’s be real – when it works, it’s a freaking adrenaline rush.

But here’s the curveball. Remember those times when you left a brainstorming session on a high, feeling like you and your squad just conquered the world? Ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, you were feeling chuffed not because of the quality or quantity of ideas, but because of the social vibes? Yeah, I went there. It’s like mistaking that post-workout endorphin rush for actually getting ripped. Bro, those abs aren’t gonna sculpt themselves after one gym sesh!

The truth is, while group brainstorming gives us a buzz from the human connection, from being part of something, that doesn’t automatically translate to productivity or quality. It’s like adding a killer filter to a mediocre Instagram photo. Looks dope, but the original shot? Meh. The social connection myth is just that – a feel-good illusion that often tricks us into believing we’ve been mad productive when in reality, we’ve just been, well, socializing.

The Shocking Reality: Numbers Don’t Lie

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably rolled your eyes at some point when someone mentioned a “study” to back up their claims. But sometimes, these studies drop bombs that just can’t be ignored. Case in point: that Yale study I’m sure you’ve caught wind of. The one that threw a major wrench in the age-old belief that group brainstorming was the bee’s knees.

Here’s the gist: the study found that when individuals brainstormed on their own and then their ideas were pooled together, they collectively produced nearly twice as many ideas than groups brainstorming together. Let that sink in. Your lone wolf approach? Potentially twice as effective. It’s like finding out your favorite indie band outsold a mainstream pop star. Heartwarming, right?

But why is this? I mean, aren’t groups supposed to breed creativity? Well, the numbers tell us that there’s often more creative horsepower in individual ideation than in group settings. That’s not to say groups can’t be creative, but the sheer volume and, often, the quality of ideas can flourish when we give ourselves the space to think independently.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably asking: “Okay, but why? Why do solo thinkers take the crown?” I’ll tell you why. When individuals are left to their own devices, free from interruptions and external judgments, their brains can wander, connect dots, and come up with some seriously out-of-the-box shit. It’s like letting a dog off its leash in an open field. It’s gonna run, explore, and just be its unapologetic self.

And let’s talk about diversity for a sec. No, not just in terms of backgrounds or demographics, but cognitive diversity. Every individual brings a unique way of thinking to the table. When you brainstorm solo, you tap into that reservoir of unique thoughts, free from group influences. Now, imagine tapping into that reservoir across an entire team. That’s a crap ton of ideas, right?

So, for all those group brainstorming enthusiasts out there (yeah, I’m looking at you, Karen from marketing), maybe it’s time to question whether that group huddle is always the best approach. Because, my friend, the numbers are singing a different tune.

Why Your Group Brainstorming Probably Sucks

The age-old group brainstorming scene. Picture it: A cozy room, whiteboards filled to the brim, Post-its everywhere, and the buzz of animated conversation. Feels productive, doesn’t it? Hell, I’ve been there, thinking, “This is where the magic happens!” But here’s the brutally honest truth: most of the time, it isn’t magic; it’s chaos.

Let’s start with the big elephant in the room: Blocking. This isn’t about your social media enemies; it’s about dear ol’ John, who, bless his heart, can’t stop interrupting Lucy every time she’s onto something. By the time Lucy gets her chance, the idea train has left the station. Or worse, she’s lost her spark. The result? Lost ideas. And in this game, every idea counts.

Then there’s Apprehension. You know that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’re about to share an idea? Thinking, “Man, what if they think it’s bonkers?” We’ve all been there. Heck, I’ve been there more times than I’d like to admit. Fear of judgment is real, and it’s a killer of creativity. Not everyone’s skin is thick enough to withstand potential ridicule. And honestly, why should it have to be?

Let’s talk Power Plays. Ah yes, the dreaded office politics. You’ve seen it. Maybe the manager, or someone with a louder voice, takes over, and suddenly, it’s their way or the highway. When there’s a lack of psychological safety, and folks feel like they’re walking on eggshells, good luck getting genuine, unfiltered ideas out of them.

Lastly, the art of Social Loafing. Look around during your next group brainstorm. Spot anyone who seems to be phoning it in? There’s always that one dude, lurking in the back, contributing zilch but ready to go for lunch when the session’s over. Why? ‘Cause in groups, it’s easy to hide. It’s the bystander effect. People assume someone else will carry the weight.

So, what’s the takeaway? Group brainstorming, with all its buzz and energy, is riddled with pitfalls. It’s like expecting to find gold in a sandbox. Sure, there might be some shiny bits, but you’re gonna have to sift through a lot of crap to get to it. And who’s got time for that?

The Better Way: Nominal Brainstorming

Alright, so you’re vibing with me on the pitfalls of traditional brainstorming. But it’s not all doom and gloom. We’re not just here to slam the tried and true; we’re here to evolve. So, let’s dive into the sparkling waters of nominal brainstorming. And hell yeah, it’s as nominal as it sounds.

Embracing the power of individual thought: First, fly solo. Remember our buddy Steve from earlier? That Slack revelation wasn’t a fluke. There’s a power in thinking alone, free from distractions, free from judgment. Think of it as your personal mind palace, where you’re the king or queen, and every thought is worth its weight in gold. No interruptions. No John hogging the mic. Just you and your badass brain.

Transition to group discussion: Let’s look at what everyone’s cooked up. Once everyone’s had their solo think-fest, it’s time to get the band together. But this isn’t your old school brainstorm. Nope. Everyone’s coming to the table with fleshed-out ideas. It’s like a potluck, but instead of Aunt Marge’s questionable casserole, you get a smorgasbord of brilliant concepts. This way, the discussion is richer, more about refining than starting from scratch.

Asynchronous ideation: Refining the gold, tossing the dross. Now, let’s level up with some 21st-century tech magic. Ever heard of asynchronous work? It’s all the rage these days. Why? ‘Cause it’s bloody effective. Once everyone’s laid their ideas on the table, give people time to chew on them. Not in real-time. Let them sleep on it, run it during their morning jog, or ponder it over their fancy avocado toast. They can come back with insights, tweaks, or even ways to blend ideas. The result? Pure. Unadulterated. Genius.

Now, you might think, “This sounds like a lot more work.” And on the surface, yeah, it might be. But would you rather spend a bit more time crafting a masterpiece or churn out mediocrity? Your call.

Challenging Stereotypes and Myths

Alright, strap in, because we’re about to tackle some age-old beliefs head-on. Like those myths your grandma told you, not all popular sayings stand the test of time or scrutiny. Let’s shatter some glass ceilings…or in this case, brainstorming bubbles.

“Many heads are better than one” – Well, not always. This old adage has been around for eons, making us believe that the more brains you’ve got working on a problem, the better the solution. Sounds good on paper, right? But in practice, it’s a hodgepodge. Imagine cooking a dish with too many chefs – chaos, right? Sometimes, the broth does get spoiled with too many cooks. The same goes for brainstorming. It’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. And more heads don’t always equate to better ideas.

Busting the “more voices, more ideas” misconception. I’ve been in rooms where there’s a cacophony of voices, each trying to outdo the other. And guess what we got? Yep, a loud room. Just because there are more voices doesn’t mean there are more ideas. Often, it’s the same idea, repeated, repackaged, and regurgitated. The real magic happens when there’s diversity in thought, not just in decibels.

Why diversity in team matters more than just “group thinking”. Speaking of diversity, it’s not just a buzzword. It’s the lifeblood of innovation. Diversity in age, gender, culture, and experiences leads to a kaleidoscope of perspectives. And that’s what you want. However, remember, just throwing a diverse group into a room isn’t the silver bullet. They need the space, time, and respect to think individually before converging. Otherwise, the loudest (often dominant) voices drown out the subtle, unique notes.

So, here’s the deal. The myths, they’re comfortable. They’re like that old pair of jeans you can’t let go of even though they’re frayed. But guess what? Sometimes, it’s time to trade them in for a pair that fits better, looks sharper, and makes you feel like a million bucks. The same goes for these brainstorming myths. It’s time to hang them up and embrace a new era.

How to Actually Make Brainstorming Work

Hold up, now! Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater and ditch group brainstorming sessions entirely, let’s talk turkey. There’s a way to make brainstorming work, and work damn well. It’s not about ditching the group entirely; it’s about tweaking the approach. So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Before even getting the team into a room (or a Zoom call, because, well, modern times), have each person spend time with their thoughts. Alone. Give them a clear brief and let them ruminate. Hell, they can think in the shower, during their jog, or over a glass of bourbon. The point is to let ideas marinate without the interference of group dynamics.

Here’s where tech becomes our buddy. Once everyone’s got their ideas, have them post it on a shared platform. Trello, Slack, a shared doc – whatever floats your boat. But here’s the kicker: don’t let them peek at each other’s cards until they’ve posted their own. Once everything’s out there, that’s when the group comes into play. Everyone goes through the ideas, comments, refines, and builds on them. Think of it as a slow-cooked stew; flavors melding and evolving over time.

Alright, so now you’ve got a board filled with juicy ideas. Time for the team to come together. This is the phase where the group brainstorming we’re so fond of comes into play. Here, it’s not about generating fresh ideas but refining, merging, and identifying the top ones. Maybe Anna’s marketing angle combined with Raj’s tech insight creates a potent combo. It’s about synergy, baby.

Remember, it’s not about avoiding group brainstorming. It’s about maximizing its potential. By giving ideas the space to breathe individually first, and then letting the collective work its magic, you’re getting the best of both worlds. It’s like having your cake and eating it too – and who the hell doesn’t want that?


Alright, squad, it’s time to wrap this party up. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there – trapped in a never-ending brainstorming session that feels a bit like Groundhog Day. Ideas ping-ponging around, but nothing really sticks. And don’t get me started on Steve. The dude had a game-changing idea that almost got lost because our “traditional” methods didn’t give him a platform.

Embracing change: It’s high time to ditch flawed brainstorming models. Look, no one’s saying group brainstorming is the devil. But we’ve got the numbers, we’ve got the studies, and honestly, we’ve got the experience. It’s evident that sometimes, going solo before the grand pow-wow can make all the difference. If there’s one thing we should’ve learned from the fast-paced business world, it’s adaptability. Sticking to old methods just ’cause “that’s how it’s always been done” is a one-way ticket to mediocrity town.

Remember Steve? The next breakthrough idea might just be in a quiet corner. Hell, Steve could be anyone in your team. Maybe even you. The real gold might not emerge amidst loud deliberations and heated debates. It might just be brewing quietly in someone’s noggin, waiting for the right platform to shine. Give that idea the stage it deserves.

So, the next time you’re planning a brainstorming sesh, consider flipping the script. Let the magic of solitary thought run its course, and then bring in the collective firepower. ‘Cause at the end of the day, we’re all in it to win it, right? And if tweaking the game plan gets us to the goalpost faster and more efficiently, then damn it, that’s what we’ll do.

About the Author: Geoffrey Byers
Geoffrey is one of the world's foremost Designers. He is also a Serial Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, and Mad Scientist. Hypothesis-Driven experimentation is his love language.