Is it better to solve problems in isolation or by collaborating with others?

Best way to solve problems

I’ve always believed that the best way to brainstorm is a hybrid of thinking by ourselves and then sharing that with a group to build on each other’s ideas; as opposed to brainstorming with a group from the start.


Because brainstorming with a group from the start causes several challenges: everyone might not get their ideas across, some people will block themselves out because of perceived weakness of their own ideas, and groupthink; everyone agrees with each other.

On the other hand, brainstorming in isolation has other challenges: only one perspective, nothing to smash against and no friction.

Well, which is better: isolation or collaborating with others?

Harvard research says . . . neither. The best solutions come from “intermittent collaboration“; group work punctuated by breaks to think and work by ourselves.

Check it out:

Groups whose members interacted only intermittently preserved the best of both worlds, rather than succumbing to the worst. These groups had an average quality of solution that was nearly identical to those groups that interacted constantly, yet they preserved enough variation to find some of the best solutions, too.

Perhaps the most interesting result was that when their interactions were intermittent, the higher performers were able to get even better by learning from the low performers. When high and low performers interacted constantly, the low performers tended to simply copy high performers’ solutions and were in turn generally ignored by the high performers. But when their interactions were intermittent, the low performers’ ideas helped the high performers achieve even better solutions.

Bottom line: Don’t force people to huddle up the next time you brainstorm, set a challenge and let them brainstorm on their own before sharing their ideas with the group.