Focus Groups, Brainstorming, and Freddy

Why won’t they die?

A reader made this comment on an earlier post about group-think efforts:

At a conference I recently attended, we had several brainstorming sessions devoted to finding ways to improve the grant we were all on. An expert moderator rotated between several groups, and I always felt like he did more harm than good. In one instance, a constructive conversation was beginning, but it didn’t fit the format that had been imposed on us, so he actually stopped the discussion to reimpose the format. By the time he’d done his damage and moved on to the next group, the idea was gone.

In a previous role as head of new service development I had seen useful information totally dry up when, at the urging of outside consultants, we switched from 1:1 interviews with users to focus groups moderated by experts.

A standard rebuttal to these experiences is that the moderator was not expert enough.

However there is 40 years of research, including at least three meta-analyses — using field experiments and controlled experiments with expert moderators — that shows conclusively and consistently that brainstorming and focus groups:

  1. Reduce the number of ideas generated compared to 1:1 discussions and
  2. Reduce the quality of ideas by eliminating the most creative ones (outliers).

In a seminal article on gathering customer information, “The Voice of the Customer”, Griffin and Hauser show that the group methods don’t even save time: you gather about the same number of ideas per hour 1:1 or in groups!

Freddy Krueger seems to have finally stopped stalking children, why do focus groups and brainstorming continue to kill ideas and hamper creativity despite 40 years of evidence of their harm?

My two thoughts:

  1. Hard sell by outside consultants who have trouble inserting themselves into 1:1 meetings and
  2. Executive participants enjoy these group activities and they provide bonding that is safer then relying on their colleagues to hold the rope in an Outward Bound bonding session.

I believe that both of these are key factors in understanding why group-think practices continue and will discuss them in a future post. Any other thoughts on why they won’t die??

Voice of the Customer:


A funny view of groups in action:

This entry was posted in Customer Research Methods, Ideation, NSD Process and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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