1. Note
Distribute paper and pens to each person. Set a timer for 5 minutes to 10 minutes. Everyone writes down as many ideas as they can. Individually. Quietly. This list won’t be shared with the group, so nobody has to worry about writing down dumb ideas.

2. Self-edit
Set the timer for 2 minutes. Each person reviews his or her own list and picks one or two favorites. Individually. Quietly.

3. Share and capture
One at a time, each person shares his or her top idea(s). No sales pitch. Just say what you wrote and move on. As you go, one person writes everybody’s ideas on the whiteboard.

4. Vote
Set the timer for 5 minutes. Each person chooses a favorite from the ideas on the whiteboard. Individually. Quietly. You must commit your vote to paper.

5. Share and capture
One at a time, each person says their vote. A short sales pitch may be permissible, but no changing your vote! Say what you wrote. Write the votes on the whiteboard. Dots work well.

6. Decide
Who is the decider? She should make the final call--not the group. She can choose to respect the votes or not. This is less awkward than it sounds: instead of dancing around people’s opinions and feelings, you’ve made the mechanics plain. Everyone’s voice was heard.

7. Rejoice. That only took 15 minutes!
The note-and-vote isn’t perfect (remember, I said “pretty good decisions”). But it is fast. And it’s quite likely better than what you’d get with two hours of the old way.

You might want to adapt the specifics to suit the problem and your team. Sometimes multiple votes per person are helpful. Sometimes sales pitches give crucial insight. We often jump right to voting when there's a finite list of options. So long as you do most of the thinking individually, you’ll see a big efficiency boost.

"Note And Vote": How Google Ventures Avoids Groupthink In Meetings

Meetings want to suck. Wrest control of them with this seven-step strategy.

You know when a meeting turns into a complete waste of time? Maybe you’re trying to come up with ideas, or make a decision. Before anyone realizes it, the meeting starts to suck.

Meetings want to suck. Two of their favorite suckiness tactics are group brainstorming and group negotiation. Give them half a chance, and they’ll waste your time, sap your energy, and leave you with poor ideas and a watered-down decision. But meetings don't have to be that way.

On the Google Ventures design team, we dislike sucky meetings as much as anyone. We use a process hack that short-circuits the worst parts of groupthink while getting the most out of different perspectives. For lack of a better name, we call it the “note-and-vote.”

The next time you need to make a decision or come up with a new idea in a group, call timeout and give the note-and-vote a try.

How it works

1. Note

Distribute paper and pens to each person. Set a timer for five minutes to 10 minutes. Everyone writes down as many ideas as they can. Individually. Quietly. This list won’t be shared with the group, so nobody has to worry about writing down dumb ideas.

2. Self-edit

Set the timer for two minutes. Each person reviews his or her own list and picks one or two favorites. Individually. Quietly.

3. Share and capture

One at a time, each person shares his or her top idea(s). No sales pitch. Just say what you wrote and move on. As you go, one person writes everybody’s ideas on the whiteboard.

4. Vote

Set the timer for five minutes. Each person chooses a favorite from the ideas on the whiteboard. Individually. Quietly. You must commit your vote to paper.

5. Share and capture

One at a time, each person says their vote. A short sales pitch may be permissible, but no changing your vote! Say what you wrote. Write the votes on the whiteboard. Dots work well.

6. Decide

Who is the decider? She should make the final call--not the group. She can choose to respect the votes or not. This is less awkward than it sounds: instead of dancing around people’s opinions and feelings, you’ve made the mechanics plain. Everyone’s voice was heard.

7. Rejoice. That only took 15 minutes!

The note-and-vote isn’t perfect (remember, I said “pretty good decisions”). But it is fast. And it’s quite likely better than what you’d get with two hours of the old way.

You might want to adapt the specifics to suit the problem and your team. Sometimes multiple votes per person are helpful. Sometimes sales pitches give crucial insight. We often jump right to voting when there's a finite list of options. So long as you do most of the thinking individually, you’ll see a big efficiency boost.

Why it works

Quiet time to think

Meetings rarely offer individuals time to focus and think. Group brainstorms--where everyone shouts out ideas and builds off one another--can be fun, but in my experience, the strongest ideas always come from individuals.

Parallel is better than serial

Normal meetings are serial. In other words, one person is talking at a time, and someone is always talking. That means there’s one thread of thought for the length of the meeting. Parallel work increases your bandwidth. More solutions are considered and evaluated.

Voting commitment

Writing down your vote ensures that you won’t be swayed when someone else you respect votes for something else. This is a social hack--we naturally want to make other people feel good and form consensus in meetings. Conflict is useful.

We’ve used the note-and-vote for everything from naming companies to choosing product features, and from setting a meeting agenda to picking a restaurant for lunch. If you try it, let me know how it goes--drop me a tweet @jakek.

[Bees: Flickr user Thangaraj Kumaravel]

Add New Comment

12 Comments

  • Jeffrey Lee

    Very interesting, especially in that this process actually does away with the need to be together. ie it eliminates the need for a meeting. The process can be done remotely. The meeting need only begin once the winner is chosen...

  • 41a8bd20

    this a very effective technique I've used at a few companies, especially during group training sessions. it's a more democratic approach, but it doesn't work for all kinds of situation — popularity does not equal innovation — however with a little tweaking this could be used to drive the group creative thinking process as well.

  • Bill Youngdahl

    Jake, it's great to see this approach being used at Google. We've developed a Web app called Teamput (http://www.teamput.com) to mirror this exact process for teams whether in the same room or spread across the globe. We built Teamput with side-by-side canvases for individual idea generation and group collaboration. There's no other app like it.

    I encourage you and others who understand the benefits of this type of approach for enhancing inclusion while enhancing creative conflict to watch this brief video.

    https://vimeo.com/user8099042/review/94026756/f519645e86

  • Jake, your 7 steps are similar to the process of brainstorming I learned long ago..with twists to speed it up and avoid some of the conflict. Good for you for noting that sometimes you way want to alter the process to allow for more creative conflict or discussion, or multiple voting. The primary take away for me was the focus on speed and efficiency, in which this process excels. Thank you. paul@herrerias.com

  • Ed Tantamount

    Just like some one from Google to take a well worn idea, repackage it and call it theirs. Google is ruining the world with their megalomaniacal business model and mediocre products. Didn't work for Microsoft, hope it goes the same for them.

  • Not exactly new. Developed in the 60's, popularized in the 70's, Nominal Group Technique is a commonly used activity in many areas. Works well for small or large groups, allows participation by all while preventing any individual from monopolizing the activity

  • Magda C

    We've used this strategy at a brand/packaging agency and it was very successful. I feel like the participants also felt more connected to the meeting because the ideas were formed by individual thought processes. It does also save a lot of time, and really gets everyone focused and thinking. Very good article, thanks for sharing! -Magda Czechowicz

  • I've seen something similar work well where people are asked to write 5 ideas on Post-It notes (one per page) in 10 minutes which are collected then 5 more. Rinse and repeat a few times or until people can't think of 5 more ideas. Stick up the ideas, put the same/similar ideas together and put different but related ideas near to each other. Discuss and vote.

    You could drop the discuss part and maybe drop the vote and use the number of times an idea came up as the vote (no-one will have seen another person's idea until they are all stuck up together). That will avoid the risk of someone voting for an idea because the person who suggested it has rank over them.