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.


  1. This ties in well with my article, which goes over three forms of brainstorming (and finds that the ones that work best are the ones where people's ideas aren't shut out by intimidation or nervousness, so individual brainstorming essentially feeds into the group list of ideas.

  2. It's interesting that the authors judge most studies into brainstorming as weak, because of the participants being undergraduate students. I know that the study that I looked at was undergraduate participants, and those authors were quite confident in their work. Do the authors suggest looking at the business world for participants?