Brainstorming & Applied Imagination

Brainstorming has a long history that stretches back to almost 3000 years, although it owes its current popularity to efforts of Alex Osborn in 1950s through his seminal work Applied Imagination (Proctor, 1999, 114; Sutton and Hargaddon, 1996). Osborn used brainstorming with an objective to increase creativity within organizations. In his surmises, creativity in organizations was impeded by hostile environment to new ideas that discouraged people from coming forth with their views and opinions.

Further development of brainstorming has been result of Osborn’s commitment to encourage employees to come out freely with their ideas (Paulus and Brown, 2003, 110). Brainstorming gained rapid popularity due to its simplicity, its fun elements, its therapeutic abilities and its proven effectiveness in stimulating creativity and emergence of new ideas (Davis, 1973, 90). In brainstorming participants are encouraged to come openly with their ideas of wildest sort, without being interfered, and criticized, that leads to combination and improvement of ideas (Sutton and Hargaddon, 1996).

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Techniques of Brainstorming Generally brainstorming techniques are divided into two main categories that are a) Unstructured; b) Structured (Proctor, 1999, 114). While the unstructured brainstorming doesn’t involve any established procedure, resulting in unproductive efforts, the structured brainstorming proceeds through some set rules that make it a very effective technique. These rules and principles, suggested by Osborn in the early 1950s are (ibid) 1. No criticism: Criticism is not permitted during brainstorming session to help in uninhibited flow of ideas
2. Quantity is encouraged: Large number of ideas increases likelihood of effectiveness of session 3. Unrestrained ideas: Brainstorming sessions encourages participants to come out with any idea, no matter how wild it appears. This helps people in coming out of their fears and express their views openly 4. Improvement of ideas: Brainstorming also encourages people to suggest in improving ideas of other people and suggest ways by which various ideas can be combined in unison, for greater efficiency. Benefits of Brainstorming
These techniques of brainstorming have helped in reaching solutions to various kinds of problems within organizations. As reported by Proctor (1999, 116) brainstorming has proved very effective in coming out with solutions of problems that pertain to Issues of reducing time in production line, 1. finding ways to handle shop lifting 2. In marketing and sales segment where within a short time a large number of concepts, punch lines and creative names are required. However the same techniques of brainstorming do not yield desired result if problem is too technical or require special expertise that cannot be suggested by other people.
Today brainstorming has become synonymous with creative thinking and infusion of imaginative solution to problems that come in organizational setups. The basic concept of brainstorming is to achieve a synergy of ideas that helps to break situation of deadlocks. It helps in generating ideas and then narrows down attention to their detail whereby from a number of available options the optimum course is selected. Thus it creates a sequence where participants themselves become proponents of ideas and their judge to weed out the ineffectual concepts and retain only those that carry sufficient potential with them (Proctor, 1999).
The distinct advantage of brainstorming is that it helps in bringing forth a number of ideas through creating a light and interactive atmosphere where one idea is instigator of many other ideas, and even an absurd suggestion acting as a stimulant for relevant ideas. The other advantage of brainstorming is that it is a therapeutic procedure in overstressed atmospheres where people are given opportunities to speak up, present their views, receive feedback and share their ideas with others (Davis, 1973).
There are numerous instances where brainstorming has successfully delivered the solution to problems that had flummoxed organizations. Effectiveness of Brainstorming Although the effectiveness of brainstorming is demonstrated through various experiments and test groups, there is a controversy whether group brainstorming is more effective than solitary brainstorming (Paulus and Brown, 2003). As mentioned by Sutton and Hargaddon (1996), a majority of experiments conducted on techniques of brainstorming have come out with different observation on the thesis of Osborn.
Their findings revealed that although group brainstorming is a widely accepted method for inspiring creativity, revamping business operations and bringing improvement in industrial and manufacturing processes, controlled tests have shown that compared to individuals thinking alone, the productivity output of group brainstorming is lower. Further findings by Mullen, Johnson and Salas (1991) suggest that in some cases groups consisting of more than two members have shown comparatively lower productivity than that of individual thought process.
However, on exploring the reasons of lower productivity, its found some of them result from improper application of Osborn’s fundamental rules. The three main reasons suggested for lower productivity in group brainstorming are 1. Fear among group members in freely expressing their ideas, anticipating negative feedback by their group partners 2. Lower level of accountability, where member tend to go reckless and literally get focused on coming out with only wild and impractical ideas 3. Sometimes over generation of ideas by some individuals block idea generation process of other individuals who loose the coherence of their thought process.
Electronic Brainstorming Application of information technology and computer analysis methods to brainstorming has provided new tools in hands of researchers to measure the effectiveness of brainstorming and improve its outcome by balancing technological capabilities with the situational requirements. Meeting styles within groups, in the words of Dennis (1994) have largely resorted to electronic communication styles that offers benefits of “parallelism, direct access to meeting memories and anonymity offered by pure electronic communication”.
Group brainstorming has seen emergence of new techniques such as Group Decision Support System, Electronic Meeting System, Groupware, and Group Support System. Some of these methods help the group members to interact with each other by help of networked computers that facilitate instant communication, messaging, sharing of ideas and joint coordination. In addition members can highlight key issues on discussion on common large electronic blackboard that is visible to every group member (Dennis, 1994).
Apart from the benefits of parallelism, access to meeting memories and anonymity of individual, the electronic brainstorming session also provides the facility of media richness, i. e transmission of complex information. Studies have shown that a combination of electronic communication and verbal communication produces better media richness than what either of them are capable of achieving alone (Dennis, 1994). Electronic brainstorming has received great boos by application of EBT or Electronic Brainstorming Tool that has been designed to assist researchers who are interested in method of electronic brainstorming (Clapper, 1995).
The tool provides users with a simple interface to help in sharing and developing ideas for effective communication, leading to greater media richness. Reeference Clapper DL, 1995, EBT: a Tool for Electronic Brainstorming Researchers. Journal of Organizational Computing. Volume: 5. Issue: 1, Page Number: 22 Davis, GA, 1973, Psychology of Problem Solving: Theory and Practice, Basic Books, New York Dennis AR, 1994, Electronic Support for Large Groups, Journal of Organizational Computing, Volume: 4. Issue: 2, Page Number: 177
Hargadon A, Sutton RI, 1996, Brainstorming Groups in Context: Effectiveness in a Product Design Firm, Administrative Science Quarterly. Volume: 41. Issue: 4, 685 Mullen, Brian, Craig Johnson, and Eduardo Salas, 1991, Productivity loss in brainstorming groups: A meta-analytic integration, Basic and Applied Psychology, 12: 2-23 Paulus PB, Brown VR, 2003, Group Creativity: Innovation through Collaboration (edit),Bernard A. Nijstad, Paul B. Paulus, Oxford University Press. New York Proctor, T, 1999, Creative Problem Solving for Managers, Routledge London

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