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June 3, 2014

What’s that Group Really Saying to You?

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We’ve all been to the classic planning meeting, at a conference or in an executive’s office, to think through a compelling issue or crisis at an organization. Flip charts and sticky notes flow, ideas get jotted down, and ultimately you arrive at a consensus -- the path forward.

Or do you?

While such planning sessions can be great exercises for employee teams, they have clear limitations. Everyone may be swayed by the loudest voice in the room, or the opinions of the boss. Some of the best ideas may never get much airtime. And how about those shy, quiet souls who barely utter a word?

While I’m not in the product promotion business, I was so impressed by a new crowd-sourcing technology I recently encountered that I can’t resist sharing my experience. In my view, it can turn a decent brainstorming session into an incredibly powerful one.

The cloud-based tool was developed by Codigital, a U.K.-based firm that aims to harness the collective intelligence of groups in real time. The network allows groups to gather and prioritize content to arrive at the true wisdom of those in the room in a matter of minutes or hours, depending on how in-depth the discussion is.

I was recently a co-presenter at a conference with James Carr, the co-founder of Codigital, who runs U.S. operations out of Denver. I was struck by how quickly James and I could generate the collective views of a group of business communicators with Codigital’s technology. It’s such a great option for any forward-thinking business that values insights from all its employees, not just the vocal ones.

Here’s a quick snapshot of how it works: Laptops or tablets in hand, participants present their responses to a simple question, such as “What are the biggest challenges communicators face in getting access to their CEO?” With anonymous responses flashing across a big screen in front of them, participants submit ideas, suggest edits to improve others’ ideas, and vote on the competing ideas. In that way, ideas are rapidly evaluated, improved and ranked.

In the end, you can see what the entire room thinks and what the challenges are. You can then launch into a second quick session to identify the best approaches to the dilemma. As I saw in Denver, the whole process engages everyone in the room in a way that traditional brainstorms can’t do. The vibe moves from power points and talking heads to a much more engaging session, in which everyone feels heard.

There’s scientific benefit to the process too, as a mound of research points to biases within groups, with groups tending to follow the direction of the loudest or most respected voice in the room. Introverts tend not to participate in the discussions as well. 

As Carr puts it, his technology leads to decisions that are more likely to get buy in from the entire group because more people feel they’ve been heard.

“We call it co-creation,” Carr says. “If the boss is saying, ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ it doesn’t matter how good the strategy is; it won’t be well executed.”

I couldn’t agree more.

What creative tools or approaches are you taking to transform the traditional brainstorming session?

-          David Grossman

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