Brainstorming usually sinks your ship

If you work in teams, chances are you use brainstorming, gathering face-to-face in groups so that everyone can share ideas. This technique has been around since the late 1930s and many in quality and excellence pursuits view it as an effective technique.

Unfortunately, the science I’ve read is not quite in agreement. A group of four people typically generates approximately half as many ideas as a nominal group of four does. Production blocking, and a few other problems, lead to some key deficiencies in brainstorming:

  •  When group members are waiting for turn-taking, there are high chances that they may forget the ideas that they had in mind, they may focus on remembering those ideas rather than listening, or they may decide their ideas are no longer relevant.
  • The competing demand for coming up with one’s own idea and listening to other’s ideas makes it difficult to build on the ideas of others.
  • As the size of the group increases, the participants might feel less identifiable or accountable which might lead to decreased social loafing or level of motivation.

Overcoming production blocking requires the use of additional tools, such as brainwriting. Brainwriting encompasses the sharing of ideas through pieces of paper – usually having people write their ideas out on post-it notes for example. This technique makes brainstorming effective by overcoming the problem of verbal brainstorming. Though their seems to be some worry here about social cues kicking in, and there may be more benefit in having folks write all their ideas on one piece of paper, or better yet on their own before the meeting.

Brain writing, to be truly effective, requires solid collaborative evaluation process to follow the idea generation phase this is the foundation of decision quality. The research seems to indicate we see results better than the norm with this combination.

This appears to be an area where more research is needed to examine different variations , the boundary conditions for demonstrating the superiority of brainwriting over nominal groups, the optimum size of the group, and the potential of mixing verbal and nonverbal brainstorming. If anyone knows of good studies in this area, please point me to them.

References

  • Coskun, H. (2005). Cognitive stimulation with convergent and divergent thinking exercises in brainwriting: Incubation, sequence priming, and group context. Small Group Research, 36, 466-498. doi:10.1177/1046496405276475
  • Cragan, J. F., Wright, D. W., & Kasch, C. R. (2009). Communication in small groups : theory, process, skills. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning – Academic and Professional Group.
  • West, M. A. (2012). Effective teamwork : practical lessons from organizational research. Wiley-Blackwell.

Building Experts

Subject matter experts have explicit knowledge from formal education and embedded in reports, manuals, websites, memos, and other corporate documents. But their implicit and tacit knowledge, based on their experience, is perhaps the source of their greatest value — whether the subject-matter expert with decades of experience who is lightning fast with a diagnosis and almost always spot-on or the manager whose team everyone wants to be on because she’s so good at motivating and mentoring.

Experts, no matter the domain, tend to have very similar attributes. Understanding these attributes allows us to start understanding how we build expertise.

DimensionExperts Demonstrate
Cognitive
Critical know-how and “know-what”Managerial, technical, or both; superior, experience-based techniques and processes; extraordinary factual knowledge
System thinkingKnowing interdependencies, anticipating consequences, understanding interactions
JudgementRapid, wise decision making
Context AwarenessAbility to take context into account
Pattern RecognitionSwift recognition of a phenomenon, situation, or process that has been encountered before
Behavioral
Networking (“Known-who”)Building and maintaining an extensive network of professionally important individuals
InterpersonalAbility to deal with individuals, including motivating and leading them; comfort with intellectual disagreement
CommunicationAbility to construct, tailor, and deliver messages through one or more media to build logical and persuasive arguments
Diagnosis and cue seekingAbility to actively identify cues in a situation that would confirm or challenge a familiar pattern; ability to distinguish signal from noise
Physical
SensoryAbility to diagnose, interpret, or predict through appropriate senses
Attributes of an Expert

One of the critical parts of being a subject matter expert is being able to help others absorb knowledge and gain wisdom through learn-by-doing techniques— guided practice, observation, problem solving, and experimentation.

Think of this as an apprenticeship program that provides deliberate practice with expert feedback, which is fundamental to the development of expertise.

Do your organizations have this sort of organized way to train an expert? How does it work?

2019 State of the Blog

I started this blog as an exercise in deliberate practice, as well as reflective. In order to grow it is important to engage in critical reflection, which requires a process of mutual learning, a consciously organised process of deliberative and distributed reflection. Which is what I strive to do in my blog posts.

At the end of last year, I evaluated my blog goals through an ACORN exercise, as well as updating a SWOT. These stand up pretty well, even in a year of changes where I took on member leader responsibilities as the chair of the ASQ’s Team and Workplace Excellence Forum and took a new job.

I met my posting goal, which was 1.5 posts a week, with 81 posts and 33.5k words.

The top 5 posts of 2019 are:

  1. FDA signals – no such thing as a planned deviation: Written in 2018 this post directs a lot of traffic to the blog from search engines, and has the largest geographic spread. Key message here continues to be all temporary changes, all planned departures, need to go through a change control system of appropriate rigor based on the risk involved.
  2. Risk Based Data Integrity Assessment: Data Integrity and Risk Management are two of my favorite topics and in this post I combine the two and provide a fairly usable tool. I wrote this post while at the ASQ’s Audit Conference, where I presented on data integrity.
  3. Lessons Learned as a Developing Leader: I am very gratified that this piece of introspection was viewed as many times as it was. Three months into my current job and this post, and the followup, are a good roadmap.
  4. Decision Quality: How we make decisions, deal with subjectivity and uncertainty and problem-solve are all big concerns for our organizations. This post serves as a good anchor for my thought and practice, as well as the direction of future endeavors.
  5. Driving for Mature Quality Organizations – FDA recent perspective: Building a quality culture, driving maturity in our organizations are critical. The FDA is spot-on, and companies really need to be coming to grips and dealing with this systematically.

Looking ahead to 2020 for the blog, I am going to take a bit of direction from Luigi Sille who set the following goals for himself:

  1. Build up my expertise
  2. Grow my network
  3. Continuously improve every single day

For building expertise, I want to continue to focus on building tools and methods to: deal with subjectivity and uncertainty around decision making and risk management; proactively build a culture of quality and excellence, especially dealing with aspects of data integrity; and, find connections between the larger organizational/leadership/operational bodies of work and adapt them to the quality profession.

This blog is a large part of growing my network and I want to get to 2 blog posts a week consistently. I’ll continue to work with the ASQ as chair of the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum, including holding at least 2 events (including an unconference!). I am also trying to pull together a group of speakers to bring data integrity and quality culture as a stream to ASQ BosCon. I’ll speak at least 2 ASQ Conferences. I’ll also deepen some ties with the PDA, including speaking at one conference.

As I continuously work to improve, I will bring the topics I’m learning and implementing back to this blog.

Creative teams

The secret to unlocking creativity is not to look for more creative people, but to unlock more creativity from the people who already work for you. The same body of creativity research that finds no distinct “creative personality” is incredibly consistent about what leads to creative work, and they are all things you can implement within your team. Here’s what you need to do:

Greg Satell “Set the Conditions for Anyone on Your Team to Be Creative”  05Dec2018 Harvard Business Review

In this great article Greg Satell lays out what an organization that drives creativity looks like. Facilitating creativity is crucial for continuous improvement and thus a fundamental part of a culture of quality. So let’s break it down.

Cultivate Expertise

In order to build expertise our organizations need to be apply to provide deliberate practice: identify the components of a skill, offer coaching, and encourage employees to work on weak areas.

Bring knowledge management to bear to ensure the knowledge behind a skill has been appropriately captured and published. To do this you need to identify who the expert performers currently are.

It is crucial when thinking about deliberate practice to recognize that this is not shallow work, those tasks we can do in our sleep. Unlike chess or weight-lifting you really do not get anything from the 100th validation protocol or batch record reviewed. For work to be of value for deliberate practice it needs to stretch us, to go a little further than before, and give the opportunity for reflection.

Geoff Colvin in Talent is Overrated gave six traits for deliberate practice:

  • It’s designed to improve performance. “The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice.”
  • It’s repeated a lot. “High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.”
  • Feedback on results is continuously available. “You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts.”
  • It’s highly demanding mentally. “Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it ‘deliberate,’ as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.”
  • It’s hard. “Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.”
  • It requires (good) goals. “The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”

Encourage Exploration

The Innovators DNA by Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen state that creativity is a function of five key behaviours

  • Associating: drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields
  • Questioning: posing queries that challenge common wisdom
  • Observing: scrutinizing the behavior of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things
  • Networking: meeting people with different ideas and perspectives
  • Experimenting: constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge

Exploration can be seen as observing outside your sphere of knowledge, networking and experimenting.

Empower with Technology

Sure, I guess. Call me a luddite but I still think a big wall, lots of post-its, markers and some string work fine for me.

Reward Persistance

Remember this, we are always in this for the long haul. I think remembering the twelve levers can help give perspective.