Inc.com | A Perfect Brainstorm Inc talks to UTexas at Arlington's Paul Paulus who has apparently delved into the science behind brainstorming to find out what is effective and why. Apparently, his research has yielded indicated such findings as the fact that ideas are better written down than said out loud, that the ideal brainstorm requires plenty of breaks, and that the best ideas come out at the end of the brainstorm rather than the beginning. Hardly groundbreaking stuff that - but he has also quantified some pretty interesting findings:
*Individual Brainstorming is better than group brainstorming (due to the extra distractions and group dynamics the groups impose on themselves) - as a result, groups generate fewer ideas that individuals
*The best results come from either alternating individual and group sessions, or "brainwriting" where participants write their ideas down on paper or electronically which are then passed around the group for feedback and to add his/her ideas and so on (This collaborative building process is also why the best Idea Management processes incorporate collaborative spaces for idea development - Research we've conducted on this agrees with Paulus' findings in that it results in ideas being collected that are severalfold better in quality and content than ideas collected with other processes and methods)
*Another big issue is in problem definition - "you need to be focused enough so the task is not too daunting, but not so narrow it discourages creativity" according to Paulus. Again, Imaginatik Research has also found similar issues - and one Imaginatik client got the nail on the head when he said "You really get the answers to the questions you ask". In other words, ask vague questions, you will at best get vague answers. Ask overly detailed questions, and you will get very precise answers. There is a quality/quantity balance to be achieved in idea collection
*Paulus believes quantity is more important than quality.
*Deborah Ancona of MIT's Sloan School rightly points out that ideas must be implemented in order to not discourage people from cracking their brains to help you out. Likewise at Imaginatik Research we've found that it is essential for companies to start Idea Collection events with committed resources at the ready to implement the results of the Event. Although you don't necessarily need to implement if somehow you aren't able to get a useful idea (although if you generate enough quantity, the chances that happens are minimal) you need to be prepared to act on them and have an active committment to do so.
Ending on a more fun note, the article reflects upon why so many great ideas are conceived in the shower... An excellent read, worthwhile the time