Making Group Brainstorming More Effective: Recommendations from an Associative Memory Perspective
Vincent R. Brown and Paul B. Paulus
Department of Psychology, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York (V.R.B.), and Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas (P.B.P.) http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/11/6/208.full.pdf+html
Literature on group brainstorming has found it to be less effective than individual brainstorming. The author begins with asserting that the enthusiasm for collective work may not always be justified. The following is some of the evidence the author provides:
· Controlled studies of idea sharing in groups have shown that groups often overestimate their effectiveness (Paulus, Larey, & Ortega, 1995).
· Experiments comparing interactive brainstorming groups with sets of individuals who do not interact in performing the same task have found that groups generate fewer ideas and that group members exhibit reduced motivation and do not fully share unique information (e.g., Mullen, Johnson, & Salas, 1991).
· The strongest inhibitory effect of groups may be production blocking, which is a reduction in productivity due to the fact that group members must take turns in describing their ideas (Diehl & Stroebe, 1991).
The author states that the most evident critique of group brainstorming is that it hinders creativity. In addition, “Most research on creativity has examined individual creativity because it is typically seen as a personal trait or skill.” Contrary to this literature, the authors assert that individual creativity is hindered when the process of collaboration is taken into account. For example, “much creative work requires collaboration of people with diverse sets of knowledge and skills.” Furthermore, “How can such groups overcome the inevitable liabilities of group interaction to reach their creative potential and is it possible to demonstrate that group interaction can lead to enhanced creativity?”
Intuitively, the cognitive benefits of brainstorming in a group seem clear: People believe that they come up with ideas in a group that they would not have thought of on their own. The potential for mutual stimulation of ideas is one of the reasons for the popularity of group brainstorming. The authors provide a model for ideational creativity in brainstorming. The model is referred to as the “Semantic Networks and an Associative Memory Model of Group Brainstorming.” To use the semantic network representation as a basis for exploring group brainstorming, many details need to be specified (See article for details). Despite the amount of steps and requirements, it is probable this is the type of rigor and structure brainstorming needs.
Enhancing Group brainstorming: Three brainstorming procedures that appear promising
The authors studied three brainstorming procedures that appear promising for theoretical reasons and continue to garner some empirical support. These are 1) Individual and Group Brainstorming, brainwriting, and electronic brainstorming.
· Individual and Group Brainstorming: Combining group and solitary brainstorming
· Brainwriting: Having group brainstormers interact by writing instead of speaking
· Electronic Brainstorming: Using networked computers on which individuals type their ideas and read the ideas of others.
In contrast to the literature, the authors argue, “A cognitive perspective suggests that group brainstorming could be an effective technique for generating creative ideas.” Evidence presented by computer simulations of an associative memory model of idea generation in groups suggest that teams, “have the potential to generate ideas that individuals brainstorming alone are less likely to generate.” Moreover, diverse teams are most likely to benefit from the social exchange of ideas. The author further adds, “Although face-to-face interaction is seen as a natural modality for group interaction, using writing or computers can enhance the exchange of ideas.”
The author’s three recommendations on idea sharing that include the exchanging ideas by means of writing or computers, alternating solitary and group brainstorming, and using diverse groups appear to be useful approaches for enhancing group brainstorming. Although these ideas won’t curtail all group think, brainstorming is starting point for solving complex problems given that brainstorming is done properly. One of the downfalls of this technique is that it does not a specific set of rules or steps. Despite this disadvantage, this could also be viewed as an advantage due to its applicability across domains and problem sets. Regardless of the problem set, it is a given that individual or group brainstorming will always be practiced. As a result, the technique should be practiced and aimed to be done effectively and efficiently. This article provides enough evidence to convince readers to consider the elements of their brainstorming sessions; however, I am curious to what constitutes an effective brainstorming session and could this even be measured.