Digital vs. Physical Brainstorming: Weighing the Pros & Cons16 min read

Brainstorming is a technique that involves generating and sharing ideas in a group setting. It can be done in different ways, such as using digital tools or meeting in person.

But which one is best for your team and innovation projects?

This blog post will compare the advantages and disadvantages of digital and physical brainstorming and help you decide which suits your needs.

Let’s start.

Digital vs. Physical Brainstorming: Definition

Here’s how you define digital and physical brainstorming:

Digital brainstorming

Online brainstorming is a method of generating and sharing ideas in a virtual environment.

It involves using digital tools like digital sticky note technologies to write and display ideas on an online whiteboard.

Innovation teams can brainstorm online synchronously or asynchronously, depending on the availability and preferences of the participants.

Virtual brainstorming sessions are specifically useful for geographically dispersed teams with different time zones or who prefer to work remotely.

Physical brainstorming

On the other hand, traditional brainstorming is a technique of producing and exchanging ideas in a face-to-face setting.

It involves giving a topic to a group of participants and asking them to develop as many related ideas as possible.

In in-person brainstorming sessions, participants are encouraged to voice their ideas aloud without any criticism or evaluation from others.

And, to ensure that everything is recorded, a facilitator is assigned to jot down all the suggested ideas on a whiteboard or a flip chart while ensuring everyone can contribute simultaneously.

Traditional brainstorming can be effective for co-located teams with similar schedules or who prefer to work in person.

Now that you know what digital and physical brainstorming entails, it’s time to study their benefits and drawbacks.

Advantages of physical brainstorming

Physical brainstorming has five benefits:

1. Enhanced creativity

Physical brainstorming can stimulate your creativity by allowing you to use different senses, such as sight, touch, and sound.

You can also interact with physical objects, such as sticky notes, markers, or whiteboards, to help you visualize and organize your ideas.

This type of brainstorming can also foster a more playful and relaxed atmosphere — encouraging you to think outside the box and generate more diverse and original ideas.

2. Increased social presence

Holding physical brainstorming sessions can make you feel more connected and engaged with your team members.

Holding this type of activity allows you to see their facial expressions, hear their voices, and read their body language, which can help you understand their emotions and perspectives.

As the innovation manager, you can also build rapport and trust with your team members by sharing jokes, stories, or compliments.

That way, you’d be able to create a sense of belonging and community in the workplace, boosting everyone’s motivation and commitment to the project.

3. Immediate feedback

One of the best things about conducting your idea generation process in person is giving and getting instant feedback from your team members.

You can ask questions, clarify doubts, or challenge assumptions on the spot, which can help your team refine and improve your ideas.

At the same time, you can also give and receive constructive criticism, praise, or suggestions.

This give-and-take dynamic can help you learn from each other and grow as a team.

4. Time for questions

A physical brainstorming process allows more time for questions and discussions.

Unlike a digital sticky notes setup which may be done asynchronously, you can dive deeper into the details of everyone’s ideas in traditional ideation.

This allows you to explore different angles, scenarios, and potential issues.

Plus, when all team members are gathered together, it becomes effortless to ask for their opinions or insights.

They can also share their experiences to enhance the quality of gathered ideas, broadening everyone’s perspective and willingness to collaborate about the topic, problem, or project at hand.

5. Reduced distractions

Unlike virtual sessions, traditional brainstorming minimizes distractions.

For instance, carrying out a serious yet creative sticky note collaboration would cause everyone to focus on the task at hand instead of any interruption caused by emails, messages, notifications, or any other online activities.

The tip here is to have a dedicated space and time for brainstorming sessions. That way, you’d be able to set boundaries and expectations for everyone.

Disadvantages of physical brainstorming

Physical brainstorming also has its own set of cons:

1. Limited accessibility

Some team members may find it challenging to organize and attend a physical brainstorming session.

Case in point, some team members may have physical or mental disabilities that make traveling or participating in a physical setting difficult.

Some of them may also have personal or professional commitments that prevent them from being available at the same time and place as the rest of the team.

Once this happens, potential participants with valuable insights or ideas (who are not part of the team or the organization) may get excluded.

2. Time-consuming

Physical brainstorming also takes time and effort to plan and execute.

Specifically, the person in charge has to find a suitable venue, arrange transportation, book equipment, prepare materials, invite participants, and set an agenda for the upcoming activity.

He or she also needs to allocate enough time for the brainstorming session, which can vary depending on the size and complexity of your project.

Unforeseen delays or interruptions can also affect physical brainstorming, such as traffic jams, bad weather, technical issues, or emergencies.

3. Groupthink

Physical brainstorming can lead to groupthink, which is a phenomenon where group members conform to the dominant opinions or ideas in the group rather than expressing their views or perspectives.

Groupthink can occur due to various factors, such as peer pressure, social norms, hierarchy, or fear of conflict.

This can reduce the quality and diversity of ideas generated in a brainstorming session and inhibit critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

4. Limited documentation

Physical brainstorming can result in limited documentation of the ideas generated and discussed in a brainstorming session.

For example, some ideas may be lost or forgotten if they are not written down or recorded properly.

Some ideas may also be misinterpreted or misrepresented if they are not communicated clearly or accurately.

Limited documentation can make it difficult to review, score and evaluate, or implement the ideas later on.

5. Requires more resources

Physical brainstorming can require more resources than digital brainstorming.

For example, you may need to spend more money renting a venue, hiring a facilitator, buying supplies, or providing refreshments for your brainstorming session.

You may also need more energy and materials, such as paper, pens, or markers, which can hurt the environment.

7. May not be suitable for all projects

Physical brainstorming may not be the best option for some projects or situations.

For instance, some projects may require more research or analysis than brainstorming.

Some projects may also involve sensitive or confidential information that cannot be shared publicly or openly.

They may also have specific requirements or constraints that physical brainstorming cannot meet.

Advantages of digital brainstorming

While physical brainstorming has benefits, digital brainstorming also offers three major advantages that can enhance the quality and quantity of ideas generated by a team.

1. Eliminates production blocking and extrovert bias

Digital brainstorming allows everyone to share their ideas freely and equally without being interrupted or overshadowed by others.

Using digital tools, such as sticky notes, participants can write down and display their ideas on an online whiteboard without waiting for their turn or competing for attention.

This can prevent production blocking, which is a situation where some participants cannot express their ideas because others are speaking or dominating the conversation.

This can also avoid extrovert bias, which tends to favor the ideas of those who are more outgoing or vocal rather than those who are more introverted or quiet.

2. Ensures anonymity and reduces fear of judgment

Digital brainstorming enables participants to remain anonymous and confident, regardless of the organizational culture or hierarchy.

By using digital tools, such as anonymous voting or commenting, participants can give and receive feedback on their ideas without revealing their identity or status.

This can reduce fear of judgment, which is a feeling of anxiety or embarrassment that some participants may experience when sharing their ideas in front of others.

This can also encourage participants to be more honest and open rather than conforming to the expectations or opinions of others.

3. Allows time for reflection and improvement

Digital brainstorming can allow participants more time to reflect and improve their ideas.

By using digital tools, such as asynchronous collaboration or editing, participants can contribute their ideas over a longer period, such as a few days rather than a few hours.

This can allow participants to process their ideas in their subconscious mind, and then revise or expand them.

This can also relieve pressure, which is a factor that can hinder creative thinking by causing stress or frustration.

Disadvantages of digital brainstorming

However, digital brainstorming has drawbacks as it poses challenges and limitations that can affect the brainstorming outcome and experience.

1. Reduced sensory stimulation

Digital brainstorming can limit the sensory stimulation that can enhance creative thinking.

In physical brainstorming, participants can use different senses, such as sight, touch, and sound, to interact with physical objects, such as sticky notes, markers, or whiteboards, to help them visualize and organize their ideas.

However, in digital brainstorming, these sensory cues are often missing, which may lower the level of engagement and excitement.

2. Lowered creativity and originality

Digital brainstorming can affect the creativity and originality of the ideas generated by some participants.

Due to the differences in stimulating creativity, some participants may find it harder to develop novel and unconventional ideas in a digital environment.

Moreover, the reduced social presence and fewer nonverbal cues in digital communication may also inhibit the expression and exchange of diverse and unique ideas.

3. Increased online distractions

Digital brainstorming can expose participants to more online distractions that can disrupt the creative flow.

With the availability of various digital tools and platforms, participants may be tempted or interrupted by notifications, emails, or other online activities unrelated to the brainstorming session.

This can lead to decreased concentration and productivity and hamper brainstorming.

Which is better: digital or physical brainstorming?

Now that you know the pros and cons of each, how do you decide which type works best for you? Here are five factors that can help you decide:

1. Engagement

Digital brainstorming can be more engaging for customers, employees, and other participants by using various features such as polls, chat, stickers, and emojis to express their opinions and reactions.

But to get everyone to participate, you’d have to send digital setup invites and other digital notes for the event.

Physical brainstorming can also be engaging, especially if the participants are experienced sticky note users and are actually comfortable with each other.

This is why the facilitator plays a vital part in in-person brainstorming. It is he or she who encourages active participation and sets the mood for the production of new ideas.

2. Digital literacy

Because it is conducted in a virtual setting, digital brainstorming may not be easy for everyone.

This setup requires a certain level of digital literacy to produce the best ideas. Thus, everyone in the team should know how to use the software, access the internet, and troubleshoot any technical issues.

On the other hand, physical brainstorming does not have this requirement as long as the participants have basic materials such as paper, pens, sticky notes, etc.

3. Anonymity

The good thing about digital brainstorming is that it offers participants more anonymity because they can hide their names or use pseudonyms.

This can reduce the fear of judgment, which encourages them to be more honest and have diverse ideas.

For physical brainstorming, though, unless the participants wear masks or use other methods to conceal their identities, anonymity just isn’t possible.

4. Nature of the team

Digital brainstorming can be more convenient and flexible for teams that are distributed across different locations or time zones.

It can save time and money on travel and logistics.

But, for teams that are located within the same area, physical brainstorming is, of course, the best option.

5. Nature of the project

Digital brainstorming is more suitable for complex, dynamic projects requiring a lot of data and information. Doing it this way is also easier for documentation and storage of ideas.

While physical brainstorming, on the other hand, is more appropriate for simple, static projects that require a lot of creativity and intuition. Face-to-face ideation allows for more spontaneity and experimentation with the ideas.

Also, digital ideation provides more time than physical brainstorming. So, if you want more and better input, choose electronic brainstorming.

There is a third scenario: hybrid brainstorming

Who says you can’t combine both? If you still feel torn, you can try hybrid brainstorming.

This method combines digital and physical brainstorming in a way that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the drawbacks of each one.

For example, you can start with a digital brainstorming session where the participants generate and share their ideas online using a platform such as Accept Mission.

This can allow for more participation, diversity, and anonymity of the ideas.

Then, you can select the most promising or interesting ideas and invite the participants to a physical brainstorming session where they can refine and develop their ideas further using materials such as whiteboards, flipcharts, or Lego bricks.

Doing this leads to more collaboration, feedback, and creativity.

Use a powerful ideation platform

One of the important tips for successful brainstorming is to have an innovation software that can help you store and track the ideas that are generated during the process.

This way, you can avoid losing or forgetting any valuable ideas that might be useful for your project.

Whatever type of brainstorming you choose, you can benefit from some tips and best practices to help you organize and facilitate successful innovation campaigns.

If you want to learn more about boosting your creativity and innovation potential, download our ten tips for organizing successful innovation campaigns today.

Published On: April 21st, 2023Categories: Idea generation

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