Thursday, May 3, 2012

Summary of Findings (White Team): Brainstorming (4.5 out of 5 stars)


Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the articles read in advance (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst University on 3 May 2012 regarding brainstorming specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility, its ability to effectively use unstructured data, and its ease of communication to a decision maker.


Description: 
Brainstorming is a term for a wide array of modifiers used to generate ideas from participants working in a group. If performed with proper structures to avoid groupthink, brainstorming can be useful in promoting creativity and divergent thinking. There are a variety of techniques for brainstorming, including open group discussion, nominal groups, open discussion and round-robin.

Open group discussion is the most common form of brainstorming, but research shows that it is not only less effective than other techniques, but can be detrimental to idea generation by suppressing suggestions from certain individuals in a group setting. Nominal group brainstorming, in which individuals generate ideas separately and compile a list of the results, has been shown to be significantly more effective in comparative studies.

However, Mercyhurst alumnus Shannon Ferrucci discovered in her thesis that only performing divergent thinking actually decreases forecasting accuracy. According to Kris Wheaton’s interpretation of Ferrucci’s thesis, it important to take the process a step further and perform convergent thinking methods, such as mind mapping, to group, prioritize and filter the ideas.

Strengths:



  • Useful first step in creating a mental model of a situation.
  • Good for identifying new ideas and capturing individuals’ previous ideas
  • Can be used to identify relationships between those ideas.
  • Good for summarizing the ideas of individuals as well as the group as a whole.
  • Can bring unique or unexpected results to the attention of the team.
  • Highly flexible, and can address almost any situation.




Weaknesses:

  • Some methods, particularly open discussion brainstorming, can result in suppressed ideas and groupthink.
  • Tends to focus on quantity of ideas over quality, thus requiring further review of the resulting ideas.
  • In-groups can create or strengthen biases.
  • Most people tend to focus on the divergent half of brainstorming and leaving out the follow-up convergent summarizing.
  • Divergent thinking alone reduces forecasting accuracy and increases confidence, undermining the utility of generated ideas unless additional consideration is applied.


    How-To:


    While many brainstorming techniques exist, the following is one example of how to go about it in a professional, analytic setting:
    1. Define the problem or situation under consideration.
    2. Have each member of the team individually identify what he or she already knows about the situation, and what the team needs to know about the situation.
    3. Have individuals separately generate a list of relevant ideas on an individual basis.
    4. Share these results with the group, making sure to get the input of each member.
    5. Identify which ideas are important to a large number of individuals on the team. Also identify ideas which were not common, but get enthusiastic agreement from the group.
      1. Do not throw out any ideas, but allow the group to identify the most important/useful.
      2. These useful ideas are worth noticing as important to the group as a whole.
    6. Have participants individually group, prioritize, and filter the list of ideas/concepts according to their own organizational model of the situation. Mind-mapping software such as that available on mindmeister.com can be useful for this step.
    7. Share the individual organizational models as a group and, much like in step 6, note aspects of the models which are common to many individuals or which get significant positive reaction from the group when shared. Also identify areas of disagreement between models.

    Steps 6 and 7 help illuminate the relationships between ideas, providing more useful, nuanced information than a simple list of ideas. This information can help a group decide on a good path moving forward in dealing with the situation.



    Personal Application of Technique:

    For this exercise, our class divided into two groups to test and compare two simple brainstorming methods. One group practiced open-discussion brainstorming, which is the most common and least structured form of brainstorming. The second group practiced Nominal Group brainstorming, in which each participant generated their own list of ideas without group discussion and then the group compiled each individual list into one large final list. Each group was given 10 minutes to generate a final list of ideas. The subject both groups were brainstorming was “What features would you like to see in the new building they’re opening next year for this program?”

    The end results were that the open discussion group had 34 unique ideas while the nominal group generated over 100, displaying some of the flaws and idea-suppressing effects of open discussion brainstorming.



    Rating: 4.5 of 5 Intelligence Stars*
    *If brainstorming is performed in a fashion incorporating convergent and divergent thinking that also mitigates the risks of groupthink biases and the resulting idea suppression. Unstructured open-group discussion would receive a lower score.

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