Group vs individual brainstorming

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —August 17, 2006
Filed in Business storytelling

Bob Sutton has noticed that the Wall Street Journal is reporting research suggesting that individual brainstorming (some have called it brain-writing) is more effective that group brainstorming. I’ve also noticed this viewpoint in the Medici Effect. According to Bob this lopsided view is nonsense and he sets about listing the weaknesses contained in the academic literature. The conclusion: it’s good to do both.

We’ve witness a similar phenomena in collecting stories. People love the group story collection groups because they get to hear their colleagues’ stories which helps them remember their own stories. I often see people scribbling down ideas (come prepared to dump your ideas) that are sparked during the anecdote circle. There’s also a time for collecting stories from individuals. Asking people to recount their experiences around a theme before they attend an anecdote circle has the advantage of giving someone time to record their stories without competing for time in a group. It also primes the person with a range of stories they might tell in the circle. Lastly, an anecdote circle is an excellent stimulus for remembering stories but the remembrance might occur after you’ve left the room. Providing an ability for people to record the stories after the AC is important.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Both forms of “brainstorming” necessary in any idea generation session. For this reason the de Bono methodologies allow for both individual and group thinking. It helps to start with the individual thinking as it is not normally possible to talk, listen, write and think at the same time. This should then be followed by the group work and the obvious benefits that entails.

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