Standing up improves brainstorming

Andrew Knight and Markus Baer recruited 214 undergrads to take part in a 30-minute brainstorming session in groups of three to five people. The challenge for the groups was to come up with ideas for a university recruitment video, which they then recorded at the end of the session.

All groups were filmed as they took turns to conduct their brainstorm in the same room – a 13.5 x 8.5 foot space, with table, whiteboard and note pads. For half of the groups, there were five office chairs around the table, whereas for the other groups there were no chairs.

Knight and Baer found that groups working in the room with no chairs showed higher arousal, as measured by a gadget worn around the wrist that detected skin sweatiness. Students in these groups also showed reduced territoriality, which means that individuals felt less possessive of the ideas they generated. This might be because the lack of chairs encouraged them to share the physical space and this facilitated a sharing mindset. The good news is both these factors – higher arousal and less territoriality – were associated with more “idea elaboration”. This is the process, crucial for successful group brainstorming, by which each individual’s best ideas are recombined with other people’s, or improved upon by others.

Strangely, the researchers don’t report whether students in the chairless room spent more time standing (perhaps they sat on the floor?). However, the chairless students did say afterwards that they felt there was more room to move around, and their higher arousal could be a sign of more movement.

The researchers concluded: “Our results suggest that if leaders aspire to enhance collaborative knowledge work, they might consider eschewing the traditional conference room setup of tables and chairs and, instead, clear an open space for people to collaborate with one another.”

The downer for this study is that while a space with no chairs was beneficial for the manner in which students worked together, ultimately there was no improvement in terms of the final videos that they produced. That is, videos produced by groups working in a room with no chairs were rated by judges as no more polished or creative, than videos produced by groups working in a room with chairs. Further research, preferably with creative professionals, is needed to replicate the main finding that standing brainstorms are conducted in a more effective way, and to see whether this can boost final creative output.
Knight, A., & Baer, M. (2014). Get Up, Stand Up: The Effects of a Non-Sedentary Workspace on Information Elaboration and Group Performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550614538463

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