!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: The Outcomes of Brainstorming

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Outcomes of Brainstorming

According to recently published research, the best ideas that come out of a brainstorming session tend to vary in quality according to:
  • the average quality of the ideas generated.

  • the variance in the quality of the ideas generated.

  • the number of ideas generated.

  • the ability of the team to evaluate accurately the quality of their ideas.
You can read a summary of the research in the Summer 2008 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review.1 The authors are Karan Girotra, an assistant professor of technology and operations management at INSEAD; Christian Terwiesch, an associate professor of operations and information management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School; and Karl T. Ulrich, a professor of operations and information management at Wharton.

The researchers looked at the effectiveness of two types of brainstorming groups:
  • Groups in which all the work was done by the group as a whole.

  • Groups in which members first worked individually, and then came together to complete the idea generation process.
The pure group idea generation process (the first type) typically produced the single best idea, but also produced the worst idea (as judged by independent experts), i.e., the variance of the ideas generated was high relative to the results of the hybrid idea generation process.

The explanation the researchers offer for this difference in the output of the two types of groups is that the random interactions that occur in a group discussion are likely to produce better-quality ideas than the individual imagineering that is the initial stage of the hybrid process.

Pure group idea generation was also associated, relative the the hybrid type of group, with a smaller number of ideas, lower average idea quality, and lower ability to discern the best ideas. (The idea evaluation problem can be due to such factors as deferring to the boss's stated preference for a particular idea.)

The combined impact of the four factors was such that the pure group process, though it tended to produce the best idea, was not able to realize the advantage of this strength if the group was also allowed to select the preferred idea.

The other key finding of the research — already suggested above — is that it is best to give the responsibility for evaluating ideas to a group of knowledgeable individuals independent of the brainstorming group itself.

1 The authors' working paper detailing their research, "Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Idea," is available here (pdf).


Labels: ,