Three Ways Digital Brainstorming Can Be Better Than In-Person

Maggie Nichols

CEO, Eureka! Ranch & Innovation Engineering Institute, enabling everyone to think and act more innovatively.
Forbes Councils Member.

Three Ways Digital Brainstorming Can Be Better Than In-Person

Traditionally, innovation and inspiring people to think differently occur in-person during “brainstorming sessions.” It’s an assumed truth that if you need to really stretch and create, nothing beats eyeball-to-eyeball events where you can riff of others, talk disconnectedly and feel the energy.

In fact, my organization was at the front of this bandwagon. More than 30 years ago, we doubled down on this assumed fact and created a multimillion-dollar custom brainstorming facility, and we have run thousands of brainstorming sessions (well before incubators and shared collaboration spaces were trendy).


Then the world changed, and we discovered that digital brainstorming, when done right, can create not only more ideas but also high-quality ideas. Specifically, we found that the majority of the ideas generated during digital brainstorming beat testing success standards. Some ideas even tested well beyond the standard to a level that was in the top percentage of our database.


The key to designing a true high-performance digital brainstorming session like this starts with reframing. Don’t try to re-create an in-person brainstorming session online. It’s like trying to make footage of riding a roller coaster feel like the real thing. Your stomach doesn’t drop, and the wind isn’t in your face; it’s a less exciting version of the real thing.


Instead, view this new online environment for the assets and new things it allows you to do that in-person brainstorming can’t. What do participants have access to? How does time change? How can you leverage geography?

For my team, three things became clear in making digital brainstorming excel to such a point that it beat in-person results.

1. Independent thinking: We are all professionals and think independently when in groups, right? Wrong. Social factors have so much to do with how people act and support ideas, especially in a professional setting.

In a perfect world, we’d love to be able to share any idea, no matter how crazy that idea might sound. These divergent thoughts in groups have the power to fuel the truly unique concepts that the team is on a mission to find. Yet, I’ve found that group thinking can sometimes hinder creative effectiveness because it adds that social level of fear, which can make some people unwilling to share that “crazy” thought.

Digital brainstorming can allow for independent work that shields social fear, therefore giving participants a feeling of power and excitement from the ability to create something altogether different than others.

To help facilitate this independent thinking, encourage employees to sit down and write down their idea in complete sentences, rather than having them ramble off ideas during a meeting. This forces them to figure out how all the parts of the idea work together, why it matters and if it’s really an idea at all. The added incubation time lets them reflect and synthesize more deeply.

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