By: Chauncey E. Wilson
The main points of this article are to discuss the pitfalls of brainstorming as well as how to carry out brainstorming in the most successful way. It also talks about a technique that the author refers to as "brainwriting" which he says is a good complement to group brainstorming as it helps with the quantity of ideas that are voiced. This article also states that brainstorming is often thought of as a technique that can be successfully done by anyone when in reality deferring judgement can be difficult for people and the concept of quantity can easily be derailed, and both are important aspects to brainstorming.
The first aspect that was mentioned in this article was diversity among the participants. According to this article, many references to brainstorming say that diversity within a group is important because it will lead to many different ideas, but it is important that the comfort and cohesion of the group is good. The author compares the lack of comfort and cohesion to when there are high-level managers or strangers that are invited to brainstorm with junior participants. This article states that the best practices in regards to diversity are to invite people from different groups that are known to each other, introduce any new people, and don't invite anyone who is feared by others (i.e. volatile people).
The next aspect that was discussed was serial speaking and production blocking. The idea behind this is that the amount of ideas expressed can be hindered when people start to express their ideas and tell stories or go into too much explanation. The author says that when a person is speaking (especially for too long), they block the production of other ideas because other participants might forget what they were thinking or decide that their idea isn't good enough. The best practices in regards to this aspect are to use an experienced facilitator, tell the members at the beginning to keep their responses brief, enforce that one person speaks at once, provide note cards for participants, and encourage those with an idea to raise their hands.
Another aspect is competition which the author states has the potential to increase the quantity of ideas that are generated. A study by Paulus and Dzindolet found that groups who were given goals that were about twice as much as a "typical performance" (goal of 100 ideas when typical is 50-60) then the amount of ideas tended to be increased by about 40% when compared to groups who were not given an aggressive goal. The best practices would be to set an explicit and aggressive goal for the amount of ideas to be generated, number each idea, motivate participants, provide feedback about the quantity generated in previous sessions, and make all the ideas visible and legible so they can serve as catalysts for more ideas.
Next, preparation for the brainstorming sessions was discussed. This part says that if the participants do some type of pre-work (preparation) then more ideas could be generated. It also said that participants might want to consider "warm-ups" where they are exposed to stimuli related to their topic (i.e. visiting a toy store before brainstorming a new toy design). According to the article, the best practices are asking participants to spend a certain amount of time doing individual brainstorming and doing "warm-up" exercises.
The last aspect that was discusses was the use of "brainwriting" as a complement. This method involves the participants writing down all of their ideas on paper instead of saying them out loud like in traditional brainstorming. A variant of this is that after writing down their ideas, the paper is then passed to the next person or collected and redistributed to other participants. Then the participants silently read all the ideas and add on to them without discussing anything with the other participants. The process is repeated several times and the results are posted for all to see. The article states that there are benefits to this which include a decrease in blocking effects. The best practices in regards to this are to consider brainwriting as an alternative to brainstorming when there is contention in the group or the culture doesn't allow for "wild and crazy" ideas and use this technique when time is limited or the group is big.
The only thing that really bothered me about this article is the fact that emphasis was put on "quantity not quality" which makes me question how valuable this technique is when applied to intelligence studies. I could see how this would be valuable in the very beginning stages of a project, but I do not think this would serve well as a method to use later on in a study. Quality is very important to the intelligence field because analysts need to have a certain level of confidence and validity in their analysis to be able to steer a decisionmaker in the right direction. In addition to that, there generally just seemed to be a lot of pitfalls to this method which is unfortunate. Because of that, I would definitely consider brainstorming to be a modifier rather than a method since it most likely will not produce an estimate. However, I did like that the author spent time on informing the reader of the best way to conduct a brainstorming session in order to make it the most successful that it can be. Even though brainstorming might not be the best method to use for analysis, I think this article is still worth the read so that people know how to make the most of it as a modifier in order to generate ideas that can get a project started.