Illusion of group productivity

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.

2 Comment(s)

Lumpy said:

There is a phenonmenon in psychology known as group think which, ironically, actually means just the opposite. It applies to a situation when a strong leadership personality in a group is so dominant that his or her input is all that effectively matters. Meetings and connectivety are supposed to do just the opposite.

There is also the concept called 80/20. 80 percent of what we create only generates 20 of out total output and visa versa. Most of the meeting I attend fall under this rule. The rable rouser is looking at a half empty cup.

One must have some faith in process and even more in persistant effort. Nothing beat a failure except a try. Hopefully you have eighty failures in a bussines meeting and then have 20 more. Collaberation is needed. Good ideas would not be noticed if we did not have the bad ones to measure them against.

Maybe we should try and figure out why some individuals seem to dominate the process more than others? (Actually, that has been examined.) The point is, however, simple. Interaction is needed. It is the only process that truely creates a real change. This is true despite the fact that most changes do not result in failure. As far as the rable rouser goes, I hope he looks at the lower half of the glass.

joitske said:

I remember someone talking about the need to balance it: have creative group sessions, stimulating thinking and space for individual reflections and processing. That would also work best for me actually, my best ideas come while cycling, showering, bringing the kids to school, etc

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