302 Brainstorm

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    A Review of Brainstorming Research:Six Critical Issues for Inquiry

    Scott G. IsaksenCreativity Research Unit

    Creative Problem Solving Group - Buffalo

    Buffalo, New York

    Monograph #302

    J une, 1998

    Author Note:

    The aut hor w ould like to tha nk St a nley S . G ryskiewicz, Sidney J . P a rnes, Morris I .

    St ein a nd D ona ld J . Treffinger for helpful comments on a n ea rlier dra ft of this a rticle.

    Also, ma ny t ha nks to Eileen B eat on C olling w ho demonstra ted keen scholar ly interest

    a nd a ssista nce with t his research while a gra dua te student at t he Center for Studies

    in Cr eat ivity, B uffalo Sta te C ollege.

    Copyright 1998. Crea tive Problem Solving G roup - B uffalo. All right s reserved.

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    Abstract

    B ra instorming is one of the most w ell-know n t ools for creat ive th inking. Many empirica l

    studies have been conducted regarding the effectiveness of this approach to group

    idea genera tion. Few previous review s ha ve considered more tha n one or tw o dozen

    studies and they ha ve ignored a few fundam enta l issues outlined by t he inventor of

    th e tool. This condit ion ha s led to some unfortuna te misconceptions a bout bra in-st orming. This a rt icle provides a r eview of 50 studies done from 1958 to 1988. They

    a re exa mined on the ba sis of six major issues an d int erpreted by considering 40 a ddi-

    tiona l studies conducted since 1988. The a im is to ta ke stock of wh a t w e know a nd

    point out productive pat hw a ys for futur e resea rch.

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    Introduction

    The purpose of this article is to critically review the empirical literature on brain-

    storming in light of six major issues wh ich, together w ith t heir implicat ions, cha llenge

    the prevailing pa ra digm a nd suggest entirely different pa thw a ys for improved research.

    B efore present ing th e results of the review, the term bra instorming w ill be defined an d

    a n a bbreviated summa ry of how Osborn a ctua lly presented this well-known groupa pproach t o idea genera tion is given. The Ya le stud y (Ta ylor, B erry & B lock, 1958)

    th a t formed th e founda tion for a g rea t dea l of the empirica l work will be summa rized

    and examined in light of Osborns suggestions and best-case application for brain-

    storming. The B eat on (1990) study results w ill be presented w ith a summa ry of more

    current brainstorming research organized around the six major issues. Finally, sug-

    gestions a nd r ecommenda tions for futu re bra instorming resea rch will be provided.

    Brainstorming is probably one of the most well-known tools of creative problem

    solving (Fern a ld & Nickolenko, 1993; Leclef, 1994; S t ein, 1975). It s popula rit y st ems

    from the long-sta nding a nd perva sive need to improve the productivity of groups. It is

    simple, easy to learn, and has potential to dramatically improve group idea generation

    a nd enjoyment w ith the a ct ivity i tself . B ra instormings widespread fa milia rity is also

    explained by the fact that it was introduced in 1939 by an advertising executive who

    ha d expert ise an d experience w ith th e process of selling ideas.

    In h is widely-distr ibuted book Applied Ima gina tion, Osborn (1953) outlined a va riety

    of tools an d a pproaches to crea tive problem solving (CP S). He ma de some bold a sser-

    tions regar ding bra instormings effectiveness. Osborn ba cked up his claim s by indi-

    cat ing th a t, in one study, a group using bra instorming produced 44%more worthw hile

    ideas t ha n individua ls thinking up suggestions w ithout t he benefit of group discussion.

    Man y were eager to try this new a pproach, a nd it quickly beca me a sensa t ion. Thisincreased popula rity created some misundersta nding a nd misuse of the t erm a nd t he

    tool. For those w ho jumped on th e ba ndw a gon, bra instorming ha d become the new

    panacea.

    The word brainst orming has ta ken on a va riety of popular mea nings. For some it

    means simply to get together a nd ha ve a casua l discussion in order to come up with a few

    idea s. Some believe tha t th e term bra instorming is the sa me thing as idea generation.

    For others, brainstorming is a universal treatment (the only way to be creative) or

    synonymous with the entire CPS process. For others, i t wa s used a s a deroga tory

    term implying a wa ste of t ime.

    Dur ing a recent conference, one Na tiona l Science Founda tion official indicat ed tha t

    .. .we all know that brainstorming is nothing more than executive entertainment.

    Current and popular organizat ional consultants and writers have often referred to

    bra instorming a s cerebral popcorn, nothing more tha n a crapshoot, or a s a lead ing

    interna tiona l a uthority on the direct tea ching of creat ive thinking indica ted:

    Those who wan t t o use deli ber ate cr eat i vi ty bel i eve th at t he (weak) pr ocesses of brai nstorm i ng ar e

    enough. Oth er s who mi ght be moti vated t o devel op creati ve th i nki ng skil l s ar e tu r ned off by th e scat-

    ter -gun appr oach of brai nstormi ng. The i dea that fr om a ferment of consi der ati on an id ea mi ght

    emer ge wh i ch m igh t be useful has value in th e adver ti si ng worl d (wher e bra in storm in g or igi nat ed) but

    much l ess value where novel ty i s not, by i tsel f, a suf fi cient value (de Bono, 1992).

    While the term brainstorming may be widely diffused, people hold various and

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    conflicting mea nings for th e term. For man y professiona ls who work with individua ls,

    groups, a nd organ izat ions to educa te a nd n urture creat ive abili t ies a nd skills , bra in-

    storming ha s a specific a nd more technical definition. It m a y be helpful to examine

    in more deta il how th e origina l proponent described bra instorming.

    Osborns Best-Case Description of Brainstorming

    Osborn (1942, 1948, 1952a & b, 1953, 1957, 1963, 1967) felt t ha t t he crea t ive pro-

    ductivity of groups was often hindered due to the primarily evaluative orientation of

    most meetings. His popular meta phor for th is condition wa s described as driving wit h

    th e bra kes on. He designed the bra instorming session a s a creat ive conference for th e

    sole purpose of producing a checklist of ideas w hich ca n subsequent ly be eva lua ted a nd

    furt her processed. B ra instorming w a s ident ified a s only one of a va riety of tools for

    genera t ing ideas, a nd idea genera t ion w a s outlined as only one aspect of the entire

    creat ive problem-solving process. G roup bra instorming w a s suggested as a supplement

    to individual ideation, not a replacement.

    Th e fou r basi c gu i del i nes:

    A cent ra l principle involved in bra instorming w a s described as d eferment of judg-

    ment, wh ich mean t t he postponement of judgment during genera t ing phases of CP S.

    Osborn (1953) included deferment of judgm ent a s only one of th e four cent ra l guidelines

    for brainstorming to respond to the over emphasis of judicial thinking that dominated

    most meetin gs a nd conferen ces. The four guidelines he developed w ere:

    1. Crit icism is ruled out . Adverse judgment of idea s must be withheld until la ter.

    The purpose of th e bra instorming session is t he genera tion of ma ny, va ried a ndunusua l options.

    2. Freewh eeling is w elcomed. The wilder the idea , the bett er; it is easier to ta me

    down t ha n to think up. Since criticism is tempora rily ruled out, it s accepta ble

    a nd desired tha t real ly w ild a nd unusual idea s a re shared.

    3. Quan tity is wa nted. The grea ter the number of ideas, the grea ter the likelihood

    of useful ideas.

    4. Combina tion a nd improvement a re sought . In ad dition to cont ributing idea s oftheir own, participants should suggest how the ideas of others can be turned

    into better idea s; or how t w o or more ideas ca n be joined into still an other idea.

    (p 300-301.)

    Although deferment of judgment w a s th e centr a l principle outlined by Osborn, he

    ma de it clea r th a t judgment h a d a n importa nt r ole to pla y in the tota l CP S process.

    Since the purpose of brainstorming was for group generation of options, sorting and

    evalua tion were postponed an d beca me the ma in a genda for an other separa te meeting.

    The four guidelines were central for successful brainstorming, but Osborn wasclear t ha t th ey were not sufficient. He outlined a nu mber of considera tions for ma n-

    a ging groups an d prepa ring for a productive session.

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    The bra instorming debat e wa s fueled by a n often-cited st udy (Ta ylor, Berr y &

    Block, 1958) from Yale which examined the issue of group participation in brain-

    storming a s ha ving either a fa cilita ting or inhibiting effect on crea tive thinking. The

    findings of the study indica ted tha t individuals opera t ing a lone a nd using th e brain-

    storming procedure generat ed more ideas t ha n groups using the sa me procedure.

    Although this study is often cited as evidence that brainstorming does not work,

    it is important to emphasize that this study did not actually test the brainstorming

    guidelines since both experimenta l condit ions used b