Monday, April 30, 2012

Brainstorming Rules as Assigned Goals: Does Brainstorming Really Improve Idea Quantity?

The author, Robert Litchfield, set out to see if rules assigned to brainstorming groups increased or decreased the volume of idea output. He found that “brainstorming rules alone do not convey an advantage over even a vague quantity goal presented alone for enhancing the number of ideas generated in to common tasks.” On the contrary he found that “evidence…that brainstorming rules are useful adjuncts to specific, difficult quantity goals.” Translation: whether or not you to people to brainstorm up X number of ideas doesn’t matter; they’ll always disappoint you no matter what.

This paper consists of two studies. Study 1 requested brainstormers to generate 30 ideas in 10 minutes regarding this question: If everyone after 2006 was born with two thumbs on each hand and all of the original fingers, what advantages would that give the person? Participants in Study 2 were told to generate any amount of ideas in 10 minutes surrounding the question, not specifically 30.
In the first study there were 4 separate groups. The first group used brainstorming and only brainstorming (standard rules apply), the second group was with vague quantity goal (produce as many ideas as possible), the third was with a specific but difficult quantity goal (30 ideas in 10 minutes), the last group was with both standard brainstorming techniques and the specific but difficult quantity goal.
The result: the goal of 30 was not achieved in either group. The highest number of ideas was 25. Their results looked like this: (Where n= the number of participants in each group.)

The second study used nearly identical but recreated the “hanger test” used by Gerlach in their study in 1964. These results were much much more interesting. As the charts below show, the range in the number of ideas were higher in groups that needed to produce specific quantities of ideas. The role that ‘brainstorming rules’ played was also quite interesting. The presence of brain storming rules and the presence of a quantity goal produced nearly equal quantities of results while the absence of brainstorming rules and the presence of quantity goals produced equally high results.

The whole test can be summarized in this table:

There is a time and a place for brainstorming rules. They do play a very active part in volume idea creation. Also, a known goal in a time pressed situation plays an equally important role. The two combined performed the highest in both studies. This says nothing of quality, only quantity. If you’re trying to pump out new ideas, this is certainly the way to go.

Litchfield, R. (2009). Brainstorming rules as assigned goals: Does brainstorming really improve idea quantity. Retrieved from

This Looked Interesting....

Here's a few interesting articles and a short podcast on the topic of brainstorming. It helped me brainstorm up some ideas for my blog post which is forthcoming.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Quality, Conformity, and Conflict: Questioning the Assumptions of Osborn's Brainstorming Technique

In the paper, Quality, Conformity, and Conflict: Questioning the Assumptions of Osborn’s Brainstorming Technique, the authors, Olga Goldenberg and Jennifer Wiley, review empirical evidence related to the effectiveness of group brainstorming techniques.  They also question whether some features and assumptions of the traditional brainstorming approach should be reconsidered.

In 1963, Alex Faickney Osborn asserted that the key to a successful brainstorming exercise is “quantity, quantity, and more quantity.”  His assumption was based on the idea that better-quality ideas are produced later rather than earlier in the brainstorming session.  Osborn thought that brainstorm participants needed to rid their minds of common, ordinary ideas before the participants can uncover or think up more original, creative solutions to a problems.   

Brainstorming has been criticised because there is little evidence that supports the idea that group brainstorming is superior to individual creative idea generation.  Also, a body of research has emerged that counter the original set of brainstorming rules that ideas are not criticised during the generation process.  It has been suggested that there is an important role of dissent and evaluation in idea generation.   Of course, the literature says there must be a balance between an individual’s fear of their ideas being criticised and the benefits of accountability and constructive criticism in the group setting.  

An emergent theme in brainstorming research is that manipulations of social and situational variables aimed at increasing the number of creative ideas in group interaction may not always improve idea quality.  Some researchers have suggested that there are more direct ways to increase originality and variety of ideas rather than through sheer quantity. Goldenberg and Wiley say that future research into brainstorming include assessment of idea quality in addition to quantity to gain more insight into how each of these indicators are affected by any variable or manipulation that is in question. The authors go on to say that measuring the quality of responses in creative idea generation research offers the potential to learn something above and beyond what can already be gauged with idea quantity.  

Creativity researchers have argued that the generation of a large number of ideas that is achieved by the brainstorming technique is one of many stages in the creative process.  Idea generation is an initial phase that may follow problem identification, but in order for innovation to occur, it must be followed by phases of idea evaluation, selection, and implementation.  Osborn, in 1963, recognized a need for these later phases, but little attention has been paid to them.

Finally, the authors state that most studies into brainstorming are weak because they have been performed using groups of undergraduate students assembled for the purposes of the study. The authors state that more systematic work is needed in an actual organizational setting to better understand innovation and how the climate or culture of an organization may affect brainstorming.

Goldenberg, O., & Wiley, J. (2011). Quality, conformity, and conflict: Questioning the assumptions of osborn's brainstorming technique. Journal of Problem Solving, 3(2), 96-118.

Cultural Difference and Adaptation of Communication Styles in Computer-Mediated Group Brainstorming

In the article, “Cultural Difference and Adaptation of Communication Styles in Computer-Mediated Group Brainstorming” the authors examine how culture and medium shape the underlying brainstorming process in today’s society where technology makes it easy for international and intercultural group members to brainstorm together remotely. The authors state that as people’s behavior during group brainstorming is affected by peer evaluation and social conformity, culture and media may influence the extent of evaluation pressure people perceive and change the dynamics of group brainstorming.

The authors conducted a laboratory study in which three-person groups performed two brainstorming tasks, one using a text-only chatroom and one using a video-enabled chatroom that showed a view of other group members’ faces. Three person groups were asked to perform two structural similar brainstorming tasks, one via text chatroom and one via video chatroom. American and Chinese participants were assigned to one of four group compositions:
            -Three Americans
            -Three Chinese
            -Two Americans and one Chinese
            -One American and Two Chinese
23 participants were American born with English as their first language. The remaining participants were international students boring in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan whose first language was Chinese but were all fluent or nearly fluent in English. All participants were studying at a U.S. university.

Two brainstorming tasks of equivalent difficulty were created: the “extra thumb” question and the “extra eye” question. The participants were brought to the laboratory and instructed about the brainstorming topics and rules which included (1) the more the ideas the better; (2) the wilder the ideas the better; (3) combination and improvement of ideas are sought; and (4) avoid evaluating others’ ideas. Groups were given about 15 minutes for each brainstorming task. The authors analyzed participants on talkativeness, responsiveness, and individualism/collectivism scale.


The authors concluded that although Chinese were less talkative in general, the use text-only chatroom increased Chinese participants’ talkativeness. Interestingly, there was cultural adaptation such that Chinese participants became as responsive as Americans when working in mixed-culture groups. The findings demonstrate how cultural factors and medium jointly shape group brainstorming conversations.

Wang, H-C. , Fussell, S. R., & Setlock, L. D. (2009). Cultural difference and adaptation of communication styles in computer-mediated group brainstorming. Proceedings of CHI 2009. Retrieved from