Your brainstorming sessions leave ideas on the table: How an app is changing that

by Kate Rosow Chrisman
January 27, 2015

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Loran Nordgren, Photo Credit: Brett Nadal

Can I be frank? There are lots of apps out there whose sole intention is to make a buck. Most of the apps — and companies — we profile on Built In Chicago provide great, creative services in exchange for money (a pretty fair trade in our minds). It’s not often that apps are created for free with no expectation of compensation (though it does happen, especially through Smart Chicago Collaborative). But that’s why our ears perked up when we heard about a free app that made brainstorming more effective and inclusive.

The Problem: No One is Candid

Professor Loran Nordgren at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management studies behavioral science. He’s been in one too many meetings where the best ideas never made it on the table, or opinions were left until the meeting was over. “We are social animals and extremely sensitive to the views of the group,” said Nordgren. “The meeting ends, you walk out and the person you are next to says, well I think we are going in the wrong direction here and they haven’t expressed that attitude,” he added.

Either that, or ideas coalesce around the first one or two things put on the table – essentially, the brainstorming stops with the first commenter.

It’s a problem he thinks private data collection – or essentially asking people their opinions without giving them insight into what their boss or colleague is thinking – can solve.  “The beauty of private data collection, you really get to see people’s first impressions of the issue.  What you invariably find when you do this way, there’s a much wider variety of opinions,” said Nordgren.

Part of the reason people don’t speak up is because they don’t want to put forth a dumb idea, or something that goes against the wishes of those who control their salaries. But that means that the creative potential of the group goes untapped. “We spend a lot of our mental creative energy in meetings making sure we don’t look stupid,” said Nordgren. 

Nordgren used to run private sessions, helping companies use this technique to improve their brainstorming sessions. But Nordgren is just one person, and a busy professor at that. He decided to create an app that could mimic the experience he gives his clients.

His app, Candor, solves that problem by getting everyone’s ideas before anyone walks into the meeting. It cuts down on the time spent brainstorming and the meeting can immediately introduce ideas (projected from the app onto the wall in post-it note formation), which tend to be much greater in variety and number than a typical meeting. Participants than vote anonymously, weeding out the weaker ideas. That process should only take 10-15 minutes, according to Nordgren, making everyone in the meeting happier and more productive. The next step “would really be the first step in a regular brainstorming idea. But that discussion is now a much more informed discussion because you can see the full landscape of ideas,” said Nordgren.

From Behavioral Science to Technology

Nordegren isn’t a technie himself. He developed the app with Eight Bit Studios (a group he calls “amazing”) and it’s available to download for free. He took his old model used with individual clients — post-it notes and flash cards — and developed it into a mobile app. It frees the participants from all needing to be in the same place for the session, which is great for international teams or startups with travelling founders. Nordgren thinks the app fits well into the startup world, especially when looking for candid feedback from funders.

“Groups just leave so much creative potential on the table and this approach really helps to maximize the creative capital in the room, so my motive is to really kind of push the process.  Frankly I care more about groups adopting this approach than using the app.  So therefore making it free was really important,” said Nordgren.

Lean In

One of the best parts of the app is showing employers the true capacity of their employees, especially the ones who might not speak up. “As leaders, one of the things that’s really gratifying to see is that they discover how underutilized people have been,” he said.

Nordgren says meetings are often dominated by a few personalities, but this app evens the playing field. “I think there’s also a benefit to this because when you use this process, it gives a voice to everyone in the room… perhaps women face this problem that men don’t face, which is how do I be assertive in these meetings without facing any kind of backlash affects, and this process helps to address those concerns because it’s a very controlled way of sharing information,” said Nordgren.

A Global Base

The app launched on Oct. 1 of 2014 and it’s facilitating 5-10 brainstorms everyday. Nordgren says they're just starting their outreach push, but having a base at Kellogg means the app (and the approach) already has a highly intelligent and global audience, including users in Europe and Asia. 

The app is being used in ways Nordgren didn’t anticipate, but that make perfect sense to him.  Beyond his target demographic of businesses, he says book clubs are using it to facilitate better discussions (the book clubs that actually read the book). One user even generated ideas on how to propose to his girlfriend with the app.

 

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