Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Quantity Breeds Quality When it Comes to Creativity

Quantity breeds quality. I have referred to this axiom in the two previous posts. But how can this be? Surely this type of thought defies common sense. We live in a quality focused world.[1] For example, in academia students are punished for wrong answers, but they are not rewarded for overall successful attempts.[2] Counter-intuitive as it seems, studies have now replicated results to support the notion that the likelihood of having a great idea is directly related to the total number of ideas you think of.

Researcher Alfredo Adánez found that “as the production of ideas increases, there is more likelihood of more quality ideas appearing.”[3] In his study, groups that produced more ideas in response to their prompt had a higher number of “quality” ideas as rated by an independent panel of experts.[4]
Ok. So groups that can produce a higher amount of ideas also have a higher amount of “quality” ideas than compared to groups who produced a lower amount of ideas. Is this an effect inherent to these super-groups? Or can merely attempting to produce a high quantity of ideas automatically lead any person to higher quality ideas as well? A similar study by Paul Paulus answered this question in the affirmative.[5] His study showed that merely instructing group members to focus on quantity as opposed to quality produce both more ideas and more good ideas. 

What are the reasons for this effect? There are a few untested explanations. One is that more common, stereotypical ideas are first accessed when brainstorming.[6] It isn’t until we exhaust the common ideas that we start to access the abstract and creative ones.[7]
Whatever the reason may be, the message stands. We should focus on brainwriting as many ideas as we can think. During a brainstorming session judgments and criticism should be withheld. Instead, the focus should be on the process of generating ideas. Once you have exhausted all possible options then you can refocus and judge the ideas based on their quality.

[1] Alfredo Muñoz Adánez, Does Quantity Generate Quality? Testing the Fundamental Principle of Brainstorming, The Spanish Journal of Psychology Vol. 8 No. 2 (2005), 216.
[2] Id.
[3] Id. 218.
[4] Id.
[5] See Generally, Paul B. Paulus, Nicholas W. Kohn, and Lauren E. Arditti, Effects of Quantity and Quality Instructions on Brainstorming, The Journal of Creative Behavior (2011).
[6] See Adánez, supra note 1, 218.
[7] Id.

10 Ways to Improve Group Creativity

The previous post introduced the subject of creativity within an organizational setting. Early innovators in business can force competitors into a structural dependency and thereby achieve a long term “architectural advantage.[1]” Therefore, the production of novel and useful products or services is an important concern for any business.

Brainstorming in Groups is Less Effective
Our last post focused on brainstorming sessions, the most common idea generation technique organizations use. Researcher Leigh Thompson (among others) gives a scathing appraisal of the effectiveness of group brainstorming sessions.[2] A summary of studies show that conventional face-to-face brainstorming groups generate fewer ideas than the same number of members working individually.[3] The previous post detailed four creativity killing culprits to group brainstorming; downward social conformity, norm setting, conformity, and production blocking. These culprits cause group members to feel inhibitions, anxiety, self-presentational concerns, and to conform to each other’s ideas and rates of idea generation.[4] The net result is less ideas generated.[5] This is disastrous to innovation because the probability of have one truly excellent idea is predicted by the number of ideas generated.[6]

We Are Blind to the Ineffectiveness of Group Brainstorming
It gets even worse. Not only is brainstorming in groups ineffective, it also gives group members the faulty perception of productivity.[7] Thompson dubs this effect the faulty-performance illusion.[8] Interactive brainstorming teams feel over-confident about their productivity; ironically, even more so than the superior individual brainstormer.[9]
Strategies to Improve Creativity in Group Brainstorming
Thompson synthesizes numerous strategies to improve creativity in group brainstorming. These strategies are:[10]
  1. Diversifying the team
  2. Analogical Reasoning
  3. Brainwriting
  4. Nominal Group Technique
  5. Creating organizational memory
  6. Trained facilitators 
  7. High benchmarks
  8. Membership change
  9. Electronic brainstorming
  10. Creating a playground 
We will focus on three particular strategies; brainwriting, nominal group technique, and using trained facilitators.

Brainwriting is the process of group members writing down their idea quietly during a brain-storming session.[11]
Nominal Group Technique
Nominal Group Technique is merely a method of brainwriting where members start brainstorming sessions by first brainwriting, and then sharing their ideas among the group.[12]
Trained Facilitators
A trained facilitator guides teams in their brainstorming session. They are responsible for activities such as jotting down the ideas, structuring the interactions, and encouraging active participation. Several studies find that groups with actively participating trained facilitators produce significantly more ideas that those without one.[13]
We will continue to discuss these and other strategies for improving creativity in group brainstorming sessions.

[1] See Generally, Michael G. Jacobides, Thorbjørn Knudsen, and Mie Augier, Benefiting From Innovation: Value Creation, Value Appropriation and the Role of Industry Architectures, Research Policy 35.8 (2006), 1200-1221.
[2] See Generally, Leigh Thompson, Improving the Creativity of Organizational Work Groups, Academy of Management Executive Vol. 17. No. 1 (2003).
[3] Paul B. Paulus, Karen Van der Zee, Should There be a Romance between Teams and Groups?, Journal of Occupational Psychology Vol. 77 (2004), 476.
[4] See Thompson, supra note 2, at 102.
[5] Id.
[6] See Generally Paul B. Paulus, Nicholas W. Kohn, and Lauren E. Arditti, Effects of Quantity and Quality instructions on Brainstorming, The Journal of Creative Behavior (2011).
[7] See Thompson, supra note 2, at 102.
[8] Id.
[9] See Paulus, supra note 3.
[10] See Thompson, supra note 2, at 107 (table).
[11] Id. at 103.
[12] Id. at 104.
[13] Id. at 105.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Brainstorming: Two Heads Are Not Better Than One

The importance of creativity in an organizational setting cannot be overstated. As mentioned in previous posts, creativity is the “production of novel and useful ideas.”[1] Correspondingly, innovation is the services and products that result from creative ideas[2]. In a business setting, early innovators can achieve an “architectural advantage” and as a result force competitors into a structural dependency.[3] Such high incentives for innovation prompt companies to invest substantial time on idea generation techniques. Today we focus on brainstorming, a commonly used method of idea generation.

Quantity Breeds Quality
The first thing to understand about brainstorming is that quantity breeds quality.[4] “The probability of having one truly excellent idea can be directly predicted from the number of ideas generated.”[5]

Brainstorming in Groups is a Threat to Creativity
The next thing to understand is that brainstorming is best done individually. According to 40 years of brainstorming research, “brainstorming is significantly worse in terms of fostering creativity than just having the same number of individuals work independently.”[6] Four reasons this occurs are referred to as social loafing, conformity, production blocking, and downward norm setting. 

Social Loafing
Social Loafing refers to the tendency for group members to slack off. We exert much less effort in a group as we would alone.[7]

Conformity refers to the tendency to only present ideas and suggestions that we feel will be well received. This produces highly traditional and conservative ideas - the type organizations wish to avoid when seeking creative behavior.[8] 
Production Blocking
Production blocking refers to an interrupted state of flow.[9] When we are in a group setting we cannot describe our ideas as soon as we conceive them. We have to instead wait our turn, all the while paying attention to the other ideas being presented.[10] The cumulative effects of these attention demanding tasks act to block the production of our ideas.[11]
Downward Norm Setting
Downward norm setting refers to the tendency for individual performance within a group to converge over time.[12] Unfortunately, performance converges most towards the least productive member of a group. [13] Therefore the entire group's performance is hampered.

Stay tuned for the next post. We will learn to improve brainstorming in organizational settings despite the pitfalls mentioned above.

[1] Leigh Thompson, Improving the Creativity of Organizational Work Groups, Academy of Management Executive Vol. 17. No. 1 (2003), 96.
[2] Id.
[3] See Generally, Michael G. Jacobides, Thorbjørn Knudsen, and Mie Augier, Benefiting From Innovation: Value Creation, Value Appropriation and the Role of Industry Architectures, Research Policy 35.8 (2006), 1200-1221.
[4] See Thompson, supra note 1, at 98.
[5] Id., at footnote 8.
[6] Id., at 100.
[7] Id.
[8] Id. at 101.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id.