You have a problem to solve or a new idea to cook up. What do you do? Pile lots of people in a room and brainstorm, right?

Wrong. It turns out that free association in a group uncovers predictable options, not innovative, creative ones. In the presence of others, we don’t want to seem weird, so we edit our responses or end up building on someone else’s thoughts. And let’s face it. Being in a group of your peers is often not the relaxing, free-form state your brain needs to produce its best work (especially if you tank up on coffee and sugar). Fast Company’s Debra Kay blogged about this:

“It turns out that a brainstorming session is a great place to load up on baked goods and caffeine, but it’s not so great for generating ideas.”

Instead of group brainstorming, start with laying out the issue and then let people go about their lives. Allow the thoughts to percolate and pop up when they’re ready – usually when they’re engaged in something else. Some of the greatest thoughts spring to mind when you’re in the shower, taking a walk or doing something else that is pressure-free.

MindTools recommends individual brainstorming before any group engagement around an idea. Find a place away from distractions, and consider creating a Mind Map to articulate and connect thoughts.

You may want to do something more productive with your time than pondering new uses for your toilet plunger. Whatever you decide to tackle, start with giving everyone some solo time before gathering to brainstorm. You’ll tap the best ideas your people have to offer.

Need to energize your innovation? Contact Humanergy.

Picture from iStockphoto.