Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Momentum: Getting and Staying on Topic During a Brainstorm

The authors suggest in their study that using a creativity support tool to encourage small amounts of individual preparation prior to a group brainstorming session results in more structured use of the time.

Bao, Gerber, Gergle and Hoffman created an online tool called Momentum to deliver short answer questions to participants of a brainstorming team each day of the week prior to the session. The questions are intended to be open and somewhat unexpected in order to encourage thinking about the brainstorm topic in unusual ways.

Momentum is a web-based system that generates a series of textual prompts based on a given brainstorm topic. Prompts can be modified before they are sent by e-mail to all group members at specified intervals in the days leading up to the brainstorming session. Group members are asked to quickly and individually respond to the prompts with text messages or photo attachments. These replies are stored in the system until the start of the brainstorming session, at which point all responses are unveiled as a large-scale visualization visible to the entire group.

During the brainstorming session, the answers given from the pre-session prompts are clustered so that all answers are at least partially visible on a digital background. The prompts can be accessed by the participants during the brainstorming session.

The experiment included a group that received pre-session prompts and a similar group who did not receive any prompts. Both groups came up with an equal number of new ideas; however, the group who used prompts were able to stay on target during the session. The prompt group also used several brainstorming strategies during their session. The prompts also aided the group in using storytelling and visualization during the session, speeding up the process.

Results suggest that participants who used Momentum found it useful for maintaining task focus and providing inspiration during group brainstorms. Although Prompted and Unprompted groups performed similarly according to traditional metrics such as the quantity and quality of ideas, the researchers observed unique patterns in their use of time and idea creation processes. Prompted groups were quick to generate quality ideas and largely avoided unrelated discussion. Even though storytelling was accompanied by idea creation in both Prompted and Unprompted groups, the shift from story to idea appeared to be quicker for the former, especially with the aid of the visualization.

Bao, P.; Gerber, E.; Gergle, D.; & Hoffman, D. (2010). Momentum: Getting and Staying on Topic During a Brainstorm. CHI 2010, April 10-15, 2010, Atlanta, GA.  Retrieved from http://collablab.northwestern.edu/patti/pubs/CHI2010-BaoEtAl-Momentum.pdf


  1. Did the study say how much quicker the prompted group generated ideas? Was it worth the time to use Momentum, or did it even out?

  2. It evened out in the end, but for the first 15 minutes, Momentum seemed to help the group stay on track and get going with initial ideas.