‘Burstiness’ is the key to the most innovative teams

How do you get the best ideas out of a group? The key is a concept called Burstiness. It’s when your group creative brainstorm is bursting with ideas. Maybe people are talking over each other. It’d like a raucous family gathering. And it results in some of the best ideas in a short amount of time.

How do you get this in a team? There are a few keys to the creative play session.

  1. Psychological safety. There must be a sense of mutual respect. And that comes with feeling safe to express a really dumb idea for someone else to launch from. This safety should come from the leaders of the team.
  2. Welcome criticism. Despite the old concept that all ideas are good ideas, the welcome criticism concept allows for standards.
  3. Lowered inhibitions. Studies show that the teams with the best innovations have lower inhibitions. In the paper clip study, two teams competed for the best new ideas for the use of a paper clip. The teams with the most creative ideas, like an emergency suture and a new form of art, shared embarrassing stories with one another first.
  4. Task bubbles. The creative process has to move along like a well-oiled machine. Each stage of the creative process, from conception to the finished project must have clearly defined task bubbles, where team members are very clear about their role in the end result at any given time.
  5. The right mix of people. Diverse groups are more creative.
  6. Practicing together. Regular brainstorm practice helps to solidify the team.
  7. Think team first. Instead of looking for creative individuals, think of creative teams as the solution and hire creative teams as a unit. Or try to create a complete unit.

Many of these ideas come from the group psychologist Adam Grant, who has an excellent podcast called WorkLife. In this particular podcast Mr. Grant follows the Daily Show and discovered how they do it four times a week, every week. You can find it here along with another fine podcast on “The Problem with All-Stars.”