Group creativity & Nominal Group Technique
Brainstorming is a well-known technique for generating innovation, but it has problems. Among them:
People have a harder time coming up with alternative solutions to a problem when they are part of a group, new research suggests. Scientists exposed study participants to one brand of soft drink then asked them to think of alternative brands. Alone, they came up with significantly more products than when they were grouped with two others.
The finding could be good news for advertisers who buy spots during big events like the Super Bowl, since consumers often view those commercials with others.
The clouded thinking might also extend into corporate boardrooms.
“When a group gets together, they can miss out on good options,” study team member H. Shanker Krishnan told LiveScience. This could mean ordering from a pizza place advertised on television even if there’s a better option, or making a poor decision in the boardroom. “Whether it’s with family or a group of co-workers, we could very quickly fixate on things and all come up with the same options.”
The research appears in this month’s issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
The researchers speculate that when a group of people receives information, the inclination is to discuss it. The more times one option is said aloud, the harder it is for individuals to recall other options, explained Krishnan, associate professor of marketing at Indiana University.
To overcome problems of this sort, Nominal Group Technique was developed. It gets its name because the members of the group actually are working individually, then pooling what they come up with—so it’s only nominally a group. It’s an extremely effective technique, especially when time is limited and the group leader wants more control of the process. The basics:
What: A technique similar to brainstorming. A very structured approach to generate ideas and survey the opinions of a small (10-15) group.
Why: NGT produces many ideas/solutions in a short time. Structured to focus on problems, not people; to open lines of communication; to ensure participation; and to tolerate conflicting ideas. Builds consensus and commitment to the final result.
- Present issue, instructions.
- Generate ideas, 5 to 10 minutes of quiet time, no discussion.
- Gather ideas round robin, one idea at a time, written on flip chart and posted.
- Process/clarify ideas—duplicates are eliminated, like ideas are combined. Limit discussion to brief explanations of logic or analysis of an item and brief agreement/disagreement statements. Focus on clarification of meaning, not arguing points.
- Set priorities silently and individually, no discussion.
- Tabulate priority votes.
- Develop an action plan.
Applied when you face:
- Group decision-making with difficult or non-conforming groups and under time pressure.
- Considering problems in staff meetings where political or status issues might reduce the input of some staff whose expertise is relevant.
- Obtaining solution ideas in a way that allows everyone to feel that they participated and were heard—people who want to dominate the discussion are reined in, people who would sit silently are brought out.
- Obtaining the input of a group while retaining the authority to make the decision independently.
Download full write-up (pdf).