#269 from Innovative
Leader Volume 6, Number 4
Dr. Siau is professor of management in the Department of Management, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 209 College of Business Administration, Lincoln, NE 68588-0491. Email: email@example.com
are important for solving many of today’s problems.
Sometimes the leader, alone, cannot handle the complexity
of the problems. Other
times, meetings are necessary because the expertise added by
others will increase the chances of finding better solutions. In most meetings, the idea-generating sessions are
unorganized free-for-alls. And
these usually lead to less-than-satisfactory outcomes—the
solutions to the problems are not satisfactory and the
participants are not satisfied with the process.
Several techniques have been designed to improve the
process and the outcomes of these meetings.
One of the most
common techniques that claim to produce high-quality ideas is
a brainstorming session follows these four rules:
1. Rule out
3. Go for
combination and improvement on ideas
These rules are
meant to overcome motivational and social factors that frequently
inhibit idea generation. What
is interesting, however, is that much of the research on this
popular technique shows that it is not always effective in
increasing group creativity. In fact, some studies show that individuals working alone can
produce better ideas than those same individuals working together
in a brainstorming session.
Wrong with Brainstorming ?
proposed several reasons why brainstorming may not be very
blocking. Only a
single member of the group can talk at a given moment; the others
have to listen. While
they listen, they may think of relevant ideas but, by the time it
is their turn to contribute, the ideas may be forgotten.
It’s also possible that, as the session goes on, the
ideas appear less relevant, or the discussion has taken a new
possibility is that, over time, the individual becomes distracted.
However, these unexpressed ideas—if they would have been
offered—might have stimulated someone else to build upon them,
perhaps leading to a better solution to the problem at hand.
easy to understand why some people may not offer an idea because
of fear that others will criticize it, or criticize the individual
for forwarding the idea. While
criticism is not allowed in a brainstorming session, unspoken—as
a slightly raised brow—criticism cannot be forced upon
participants. Also, a
lower-level participant may feel uncomfortable speaking out on an
idea that he or she believes the supervisor would not support, or
an idea that may be openly ridiculed after the meeting.
riding. Individuals have a tendency to put less effort into a group
project than they would if they were working independently.
For instance, some people feel more comfortable offering an
idea only after they have had the time to think it through.
Meetings usually have the pressure of time hovering over
them; thus, certain ideas, thought up during the meeting, will not
You can see now
how a person’s potential contribution can be diminished in a
group session. Several
studies have shown that electronic brainstorming can overcome some
of these barriers. (I've
recently reviewed them in the article, Electronic Creativity
Techniques for Organizational Innovation, Journal
of Creative Behavior Vol. 30, 283, 1996).
One form of
brainstorming is via email. A
facilitator is recommended for this technique.
Once the problem is defined, it is sent out to the
"group" via email.
This allows participants to contribute ideas independently
by sending emails back to the facilitator.
The facilitator will compile the list and send it out to
the group. An
"electronic facilitator" could be programmed to perform
the tasks of compilation, and sending and receiving emails.
The list could be sent out once a day.
In this way, the participants can follow up on other’s
ideas. Since ideas
are recorded electronically, they won’t be forgotten, and they
can be thought about at any time.
Participants can dwell on the problem in the comfort and
privacy of their desks and even their homes. They can examine
inputs directly from the computer, or from printouts. Thus, the major barriers to production blocking are now
Also, only the
facilitator (if a human facilitator is used) knows the identities
of the contributors. The
ideas in the list are not associated with any individual.
Because the ideas are anonymous,
are reticent due to evaluation apprehension will now be more
likely to contribute. Social
loafing will be reduced since an individual can work through his
or her ideas independently before offering them to the entire
In addition to
the benefits mentioned above, electronic brainstorming has the
advantages of transcending space and time constraints.
Many times, it’s difficult to set up a meeting.
One or more of the desired participants may not be able to
attend. Sometimes the
number of participants is restricted by the size of the room.
When planning face-to-face meetings, there’s always a
tendency to keep the group to a reasonable size; thereby
eliminating some people at the fringe of the problem.
However such "outsiders" often make major
contributions and bring new insights.
By using an email system, the size of the group no longer
has to be restricted. The
participants need not be all present at the same time and at the
same place. When a
creativity session involves people from various sites and
localities, the electronic mechanism becomes even more valuable as
it eliminates travel time and expense.
brainstorming via email to increase both the quantity and quality
of ideas. The
non-face-to-face environment allows everyone to focus more on the
creativity task at hand, and less on the personal and social
aspects of interaction. Your
success and the success of your organization depend on good ideas,
so experiment with ways to get the better ideas.