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the-brainstorming-myth1(2) - Business Strategy Review 2000...

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Research shows unequivocally that brainstorming groups produce fewer and poorer quality ideas than the same number of individuals working alone. Yet firms continue to use brainstorming as a technique for generating ideas. This continuing use of an ineffective technique is interesting psychologically. From a practical viewpoint, understanding why brainstorming is usually ineffective, and why people still do it, gives a basis for suggesting how managers can improve the way they use it. This article starts by describing what brainstorming is, how it is supposed to be conducted and its claimed benefits. It then reviews the empirical research on brainstorming. Three processes in particular reduce its effectiveness: “social loafing” (the group context enables individuals to make less effort), “evaluation apprehension” (fear of suggesting ideas might make one look foolish) and “production blocking” (only one group member can suggest an idea at any moment). The article then discusses why, despite this evidence, firms carry on doing it. Finally, it explores the newer techniques of “electronic brainstorming” which may reduce the three process problems listed above. The article is thus structured into six sections: What is brainstorming? Empirical research on brainstorming. Three processes which make brainstorming ineffective. Why firms carry on brainstorming. Electronic brainstorming. Managerial implications. What is Brainstorming? Alex Osborn, a Madison Avenue advertising executive, who is attributed with originating the business use of term “brainstorming”, argued that it increased both the quality and quantity of ideas generated by the group (Osborn 1959). He developed the technique in the 1950s after concluding that typical group decision- making processes inhibit, rather than encourage, creativity. He observed that most groups discuss and evaluate an idea as soon as a group member generates it. In his view, people who had unusual ideas which were not yet well thought out were discouraged from sharing them by knowing that the ideas would be immediately evaluated. Creativity was thus inhibited. He stated bluntly that the average person can think up twice as many ideas when working with a group as when working alone. Brainstorming was thought to be best suited to finding lists of alternative solutions to problems. It was assumed that the technical details of how to The Brainstorming Myth Adrian Furnham © London Business School Business Strategy Review, 2000, Volume 11 Issue 4, pp 21-28
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Business Strategy Review achieve and implement these alternatives could be worked out at a later stage. Brainstorming was first developed for creating advertising campaigns. It is now put to such diverse uses as thinking of new products, making recommendations for new employee benefits, finding ways of raising money for a cause, and searching for new ways to lay out the work groups in a government agency.
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