Air France/ KLM rethink brainstorming and get creativeDeveloping a marketing strategy
Brainstorming is ingrained into best practice on how teams develop new ideas, yet it is not the best way to get creative.
We had a short amount of time with the Air France/ KLM team and we needed to get them into ‘creative thinking’ mode fast. Their ideas would become the basis for a new marketing strategy for the e-commerce team. We needed to steer the team away from their normal ‘brainstorming’ approach towards a method that works.
What is brainstorming?
When a group of people (typically 4-6) operate interactively to solve a problem, that is called ‘brainstorming’. The rules of brainstorming are that there are no bad ideas and every member of the team should be prepared to be a little ‘out there’ with their creativity if they can. The team as a whole agrees not to judge anyone’s ideas as they are presented. Typically one person will share an idea as they come up with it and every else will listen. Sometimes this triggers another team member to have an idea. Most commonly though, sharing an idea completely stops any idea generation in the group for the time it takes to explain the idea. During the explanation the idea generator is not developing any new ideas and everyone listening is interrupted from their own thoughts. This is called production blocking.
You have no doubt done brainstorming in the past. It probably didn’t work all that well. You will probably try it again, unless you understand the truth: brainstorming is the least effective creativity tool you can use.
Use pairs instead
There are dozens of academic papers that show how brainstorming groups are less creative than nominal groups (nominal groups are where everyone in a group works by themselves in parallel on the group’s problem). Nominal groups do not benefit from triggering but they are also not subject to production blocking.
We needed to get the most out of groups by including some triggering, but minimising production blocking at the same time. This was achieved by arranging problem solving groups in cells of two or three people.
There was anecdotal precedent for cells of three as this is the dominant US Marine Corps approach and for pairs like those used in rapid software development.
For the Air France/ KLM group, we used pairs. Participants reported working in pairs was more enjoyable and made it easier for them to get into flow (read about this in Mihaly Czsiksentmihaly’s book Flow). If you look at the video again, you’ll see that for the most part the pairs are oblivious of filming: they are in flow and only have attention for the problem they are working on and their partner’s interactions with them.
In around three hours, the Air France/ KLM group of eighteen people (nine pairs) were able to generate more than twenty solution options for their marketing problem, all of which were higher quality than the creative agencies proposals previously considered, and at a fraction of the cost.
None of these people were trained marketers, but they had a well defined problem. We added two other creative problem solving techniques to generate ideas for their problem. Most of the participants were delighted and surprised by their overall creativity.
Arrange your problem solving groups into pairs in order to be more effective and efficient at solving problems creatively.