10 Benefits of Online Problem Solving

Susan Robertson, CEO of Sharpen Innovation and instructor at Harvard, spoke at this year’s FourSight Forum for FourSight Certified Facilitators. She identified ten surprising ways that online problem solving can beat in-person, even in the best of times.

1. Get the right people in the “room”

Online meetings eliminate the geographic barrier of who can attend. That means you can bring the right people to the table, not just the people right next door. In this year’s Forum, we had people dialing in from the US, Ireland, Israel, UK, Belgium, Canada, Mexico and Australia.

2. Record the session

One FourSight facilitator in Australia slept through the event. No problem. We recorded this year’s Forum on Zoom without a videographer or a sound crew. We did it with the press of a button (and everyone’s permission).

3. More incubation time

In a live session, the brainstorming is over when the meeting is over. Research shows that creative thinking doesn’t work that way. Good ideas take time. Ideas often happen on the drive home, in the shower or on a walk. Robertson explains, “The time factor of how much time clients are willing to spend out of their own office in a workshop has always forced us to compress into as little time as possible which means no time is left for incubation.” These days, Robertson likes to schedule multiple shorter meetings over several days. “Now, you can have all the incubation time you want… I find that I like it better. The clients like it better.”

4. Save on travel

The price of airfare, ground travel, hotels and food adds up fast. Virtual meetings eliminate travel costs. They also eliminate travel time. Because we held this year’s Forum virtually, we cut the registration cost by more than 80%, and actually increased the profit.

5. Quantity and diversity of ideas go up

Robertson, who’s facilitated virtual problem solving since 2003, is a big believer in having participants type their ideas. She prefers typing, even when people are gathered in a room. “We did the math,” she said. “When people type in their ideas, quantity goes up. Diversity of ideas also goes up thanks to the anonymity of online brainstorming, which makes people more willing to put a wild idea out there.” Research tells us that more ideas and wilder ideas both lead to better ideas.  As Alex F. Osborn, who coined the word brainstorming, said, “It’s easier to tame down a wild idea than it is to invigorate a weak one.”

6. Brainstorm at your best

In a typical in-person session, participants are encouraged to call out their ideas and post them on a flip chart so others can see, hear and build on the ideas. This creates a lot of noise and commotion and makes it hard for the introverts to think at all. In online problem solving, participants login to the online brainstorming platform, read each other’s ideas and add their own. Noise problem solved. Plus, said Robertson, “If one person is better at generating ideas at midnight, and another person is better at generating ideas at 8am, they can do this asynchronously, but still see each other’s ideas to spark ideation.”

7. Participants love real-time metrics

Groups get motivated when they can see the number of ideas they are generating grow. Online systems keep a tally. “I give them a goal,” said Robertson, “and they can watch as they close in on it. It definitely increases energy and engagement.”

8. Voting is easier — and more democratic

When in-person groups vote by putting “dots” on their favorite ideas, two things happen: 1) people are self-conscious about the ideas they choose and 2) they tend to choose ideas other people have already chosen. Voting online eliminates those issues. Participants can only see their own votes. So they vote with anonymity and don’t fall prey to the “popularity” trap, voting for ideas that already got votes.

9. Save hours documenting

If you’ve ever led a post-it-note-based problem solving session, you’ve probably walked away with rolls of flip chart paper under your arm, flushed with good intentions to type up the results. And months later, you’ve probably found those same flip chart pages rolled up in the back of your closet. Online systems capture all those ideas with one touch of a button. You can download the results into a document and produce a professional looking report in minutes. Think of the trees you save, not to mention the closet space.

10. Use FourSight to “read” the room

One downside of online problem solving is you lose the ability to “read” the room. If you don’t know people personally, it’s hard to know what they’re thinking in an online meeting. Are they following? Are they engaged? Are they with me? Robertson is one of many problem-solving facilitators who use FourSight overcome that limitation. Knowing the FourSight profiles of the individual and the group help her to anticipate their problem solving needs.

Learn more about Susan Robertson on her website:  https://susanrobertson.co// 


Contact FourSight to find a certified facilitator who can facilitate online problem-solving for your group.