Think about the last time you lead brainstorming to improve your customer experience (CX). Did you give people Post-It Notes and have them shout out ideas while they put them on the wall?
Doing that is a ton of fun. But it’s also a terrible way to develop ideas. So, stop doing it.
You reply, “But this approach is a staple of design thinking. Everybody’s doing it! Why shouldn’t I?”
Well, if all your friends jumped off a bridge…
More importantly, everybody does it because it’s intuitive. But if behavioral economics has taught us anything, it’s that intuitive approaches don’t always work. Brainstorming is just another example. What’s wrong with it?
First, the out-loud process anchors your team. The first idea shared has a disproportionate impact on those that follow. If the first idea is about communication, an unnaturally large percentage of the following ideas will also be about communication. We’re social creatures, and we naturally follow what’s shared with us.
Second is peer pressure. Despite the “no idea is a bad idea,” an idea from that annoying guy in Accounting is a bad idea, because he “just doesn’t get it.” (Apologies to anybody reading this from Accounting!) And the boss’s ideas are always better. It’s not deliberate, but it’s a real phenomenon.
Third, in any group of five, two people will speak 60% of the time. You’re not getting as much from some of your participants, whether they’re introverts or more deliberate thinkers.
Yes, traditional brainstorming is fun. But ideas are how you build a better customer experience. So, take a stand and use science to help you develop better ideas.
The best method is to collect ideas anonymously through technology. A simple web form will work. Not only does this prevent anchoring and peer pressure, it also gives participants time to think and fully develop their ideas. Then you can document the ideas and prioritize them without bias.
If you can’t do this, then try silent brainstorming, as we do in our workshops. After we share the voice of the customer we ask participants to develop ideas silently, writing each on a separate Post-It Note or notecard. In the VoC we typically identify 3-4 Moments of Truth – interactions with a disproportionate impact on loyalty. We give participants ten minutes to develop ideas on the first Moment of Truth, do it again for the second and third, then have them develop ideas for the entire journey. While this doesn’t remove the peer pressure bias, and still challenges slower, deliberate thinkers, it does remove anchoring and allow introverts to more fully participate.
A third approach is brainwriting. In the classic 6-3-5 method, we have a table of six people. Each spends five minutes writing three ideas on the top of a grid with six rows. Then we rotate it to the left, and the next person further develops the idea, making it more tangible. After five more minutes, we rotate again and repeat, until all five other participants have a chance to better develop the idea – six people, three ideas each, five rotations.
This helps remove the peer pressure – yes, if you try, you can figure out who wrote the idea. But it’s less likely since you’re more focused on the idea. Also, since it’s silent, you remove the Anchoring bias, as well as helping more introverted members. And five minutes is typically enough for even the most deliberate of thinkers to develop just three ideas.
In today’s Ideation Workshop, we combined these last two. First, we had the participants develop their ideas silently. We then had them select their top three and use them for brainwriting. This led to eighteen full developed ideas per table, with much more detail than in your traditional brainstorming. We followed this by building business cases, which was much easier because of the time spent developing the ideas.
CX success relies on engaging your business partners to develop ideas, build ownership, and then implement them. For your next brainstorming session, look at the science, and leave the shouting for your competitors’ brainstorming.