Individual vs. Group Brainstorming – The Difference

Individual vs. Group Brainstorming - The Difference

Brainstorming is an effective tool to mine ideas out of your mind. It helps you explore various, and at times, instantaneous ideas to find creative solutions or business processes. There are two brainstorming methods – individual and group.

Though both of them have their own advantages in terms of providing stimuli for idea generation, people are more creative when they brainstorm on their own rather than in groups. This is because:

  • They can drive their own idea generation: In individual brainstorming, people enjoy the flexibility of working at their own pace. They can set their own time and place and work accordingly. People tend to be more creative at certain times and places.Some are at their creative best in the morning, some in the evening, some while drinking coffee, some while traveling,  and so on. This is absent in group brainstorming where people are supposed to follow set timelines and places.
  • They can avoid blocking ideas: If a group brainstorming session is poorly organized, it can quickly sidetrack the discussion. The participants, especially the reserved and the quiet, can get blocked. They cannot be at their creative best and express ideas in clamorous situations. Individuals do not suffer this constraint when they brainstorm on their own.

  • They don’t have to worry about others’ egos: People like to be noticed for their contributions. At times, they tend to go overboard and try to enforce their ideas on others. If ideas come from their superiors, chances are other members will step back from expressing their own, just to avoid a conflict.In addition, in group-thinking sessions, people may feel their ideas are not as good or valuable as those expressed by others. Some ideas are lost this way. It is common for people to be judgmental and quickly step into a discussion over one idea. Though it can be controlled soon, it can affect the output. People are not likely to share their ideas if they feel intimidated.
  • They can generate more ideas: In group settings, you cannot expect equal participation from all members. Some people may feel shy to share their crazy or weird ideas. On the other hand, individual brainstorming allows participants to put down all their ideas without hesitation or fear of mockery. It’s possible that these ideas may pave the way for profitable business opportunities or provide more creative solutions.

However, individual brainstorming misses the benefits of shared experience and expertise. No doubt, people can be more creative and generate more ideas when they work on their own because it minimizes distractions. But you can know the applicability of these ideas only when you compare and contrast them with those of others. Thus, mix both individual and group brainstorming techniques judiciously for optimal results.

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  • Recently, I was involved with a international organization and a brainstorming event. 25 professionals took a half-day on Saturday to help design the future plan.

    The facilitator, not only was not competent, she was teaching another person how to be a facilitator at the same time. The first hour went fine, then it all fell apart–there were many rolled eyeballs etc.

    Can’t emphasize enough….with brainstorming facilitator must have some communication skills.

  • Jacqueline M. Walters

    The best practices for individual and group brainstorming. Select individual top talents, to brainstorm on their own. Allow top talents to bring their ideas to the table, as a multidiscipline, diverse group who respect and are tolerant of the differences in their coworkers ideas, they bring to the table. The group must first be open to diversity and inclusion training, to accomplish successful business processes, in effective brainstorming.

  • There is a richness to group brainstorming that allows the participants to feed off each others’ ideas. Someone says something that triggers another person’s “brainstorm” . Also, the collective brain is often richer than the individual brain BECAUSE of the various points-of-view. Individual brain storming is more akin to listing ideas one has but doesn’t provide the atmosphere for changing or enlarging that idea. I do agree that courage is necessary whether it is a group brainstorming session or an individual one. Creating the appropriate atmosphere for people to engage their brains in this way is the single most important ingredient to a successful session – group or individual.
    Ruth Mott

  • A recent research paper indicated that even extraverts are more creative in their idea generation when done silently. Thus, effective brainstorming requires individual brainstorming to be most effective. The paradox is that only through group brainstorming do we see groups come to consensus and actually implement their ideas. Ideally, the best facilitators effectively use both approaches to maximize the benefits of both approaches.

    Mitch Owen
    Mitchen, Inc. Leadership and Organizational Development

  • Kari Nysted

    Group brainstorming will create more varied and creative ideas than individual brainstorming as I think we will be inspired to see new perspectives and new associations through other peoples ideas.

    However group brainstorming is in my opinion more difficult as it requires certain skillset in participants. Skills like knowing when to be quite, when to speak, when and how to listen and to be open, when to intervene and how to display a non-critical attitude to all ideas ie no stopping of ideas.

    I feel these skills can be learned through mostly practice and testing/developing your own group skills.

  • We have been playing with idea facilitation for what seems a zillion years and have gradually moved to a pretty simple and yet effective process. One, we use our Square Wheels® illustrations as a basis of getting things rolling…

    Square Wheels One is a wooden wagon being pulled by a person with a rope and being pushed from behind by others. It is rolling on wooden Square Wheels, with a cargo of round rubber tires.

    The cartoon works like an inkblot, in that the generality of it allows readily for projection of beliefs. Sometimes, we anchor it to a specific organizational reality like systems and processes or to issues of leadership and sometimes we just leave it unhooked.

    From an individual basis, there are two things that seem to work pretty well. One is to use mind-mapping or some similar approach to structured creativity. The cartoon, because of its very general nature, is a great tool to teach the technique since the image can represent so many things. The other approach, more of a group technique, is to allow for “one minute of silent contemplation” of the image and its implications before then allowing a group of people to discuss implications.

    Often, what I will also add to this conversation in the facilitation / debriefing of the activity, is how the individual’s own biases and anchor points will influence them differently at each tabletop and it is only when the group puts all the ideas together do we get more of a “full picture” of the breadth and length of the imagery and the complexity of the creative process.

    It is common for a tabletop to feel accomplished with 20 or so ideas from this brainstorming activity. What I do to anchor the possible is show them a list of some of the 300 or so different responses and reactions to the Square Wheels One illustration that I collected over a few sessions. That is always surprising but it helps me anchor the key concept that,

    — “It is dangerous to know THE Answer!”

    I continue to be astounded at the real creativity and cleverness of people.

    In an article called, “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly,” I expand on many of these same themes. One approach is to tell a joke about the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly and then to demonstrate the reality of divergent thinking with an activity. People will quit thinking about possibilities when they “get” the answer:

    Two caterpillars are rolling on the Square Wheels wagon when a beautiful butterfly floats by. The one caterpillar says to the other, “You will never get me up in one of those things!”

    (When you get the above, read the below)

    I thought it was about active resistance to change before I tested that assumption with others. I now have 22 different responses to the joke, with my favorite being, “My mother was a moth.”

    Creativity and innovation are pretty amazing and I KNOW that I could never have generated that last framework.

    Google “Teaching the caterpillar to fly” and you can download the article.

    Me, I would use a more additive word than “versus” in the question about individual versus group brainstorming effectiveness.


  • The best practices for individual and group brainstorming. Select individual top talents, to brainstorm on their own. Allow top talents to bring their ideas to the table, as a multidiscipline, diverse group who respect and are tolerant of the differences in their coworkers ideas, they bring to the table. The group must first be open to diversity and inclusion training, to accomplish successful business processes, in effective brainstorming.

  • Neetu

    Individual brainstorming tends to produce a wider range of ideas than group brainstorming, but tends not to develop the ideas as effectively, perhaps as individuals on their own run up against problems they cannot solve.

    Whereas Group brainstorming develops ideas more deeply and effectively, as when difficulties in the development of an idea by one person are reached, another person’s creativity and experience can be used to break them down. Group brainstorming tends to produce fewer ideas (as time is spent developing ideas in depth) and can lead to the suppression of creative but quiet people by loud and uncreative ones.

  • When we have good ideas, by nature, we want to share them. When we share our good ideas we usually can make them great as a result.

  • Sara Thurston

    I prefer to brainstorm either alone or with my art director.

    I’ve found that group brainstorming is useful in the very earliest stages, because it can bring a wider range of perspectives to the table. It may also indicate in a very general way how “outsiders” might view the product or service, since the larger group is typically unfamiliar with the details surrounding the product or service to be marketed. While an exciting new direction can spring from groups, most ideas tend to be very obvious and run-of-the-mill.

    Ultimately, I think that a tight, well-matched copywriter/art director team with intimate knowledge of all aspects of the product or service is the most likely to produce brilliant, targeted solutions and creative ideas. Either using results from the group exercise, or starting from scratch, a small team has a better chance to analyze each idea, refine it, and see if it has further potential.

  • Kevin

    I posit that individual brainstorming is an integral part of any group brainstorming! While one might not necessarily hear”multiple voices”, internally and consciously bringing to the forefront the various competing ideas, strategies, outcomes, repercussions…etc, and weighting their respective merits is a natural way for an individual to ‘create a safety zone’ for themselves as discussed earlier by Matthew.
    I venture to say that many of you might have used this same strategy to process and organize your thoughts and opinion about this very topic that eventually led you to finally posting your current contribution.

  • Depends on the goals and participants. Best ideas come from people who understand the creative process, and have a good grasp of the design goals. That can include an individual designer, a couple of designers, or designers and creative-minded clients. And good ideas come from good research.

    I prefer to do brainstorming on my own or with another designer, but would welcome the client only if the s/he understood the connection between creativity and creative solutions.

  • I also think that there is a place for both. I like to use a hybrid version that includes some solo work along with group work. Very effective to have teams work in groups after individuals have had time to ideate. The group can then share ideas and expand. Then back to solo brainstorming to continue expanding.

    This back and forth is a great way to “iterate” which results in better and better ideas.

    One side benefit of a group brainstorm-it is energizing and motivating. This keeps people engaged and excited around a common goal.

    I do training and development on Creative Thinking. I have a good list of group brainstorm guidelines. I’m happy to share, feel free to contact me if you are interested.

    Also would like to mention Brainwriting–a good silent technique that allows everyone to participate in an equal way. Will help the quiet person contribute and will put the egos on equal ground.

  • Absolutley agree.. the individuals’ view is just as important as the group. Being able to build your own view and sharing this with others is what it’s all about. At the end of the day though, we still have to converge onto what the general consesnus is and move forward as a group.

  • PafenesseNoro

    Greetings everybody.