Sunday, April 4, 2010

Quick, troops! Storm that brain!

I think it was awesome that we got to utilize both the Nominal Group Technique and Brainstorming in class. It really gave a good perspective on different methods of group problem-solving. We grow up hearing the word "brainstorming" all the time, but I feel like I never really understood what it actually was until the reading for this week (and the in-class exercise).

The exercise in class was awesome, because we got to really see how these two decision-making processes differ. I honestly preferred the Nominal Group Technique, because I found that our group produced solutions of much higher quality. Brainstorming wasn't quite as effective, because it gave us too much room to goof off. I found that, while we were doing the NGT exercise, we all had pertinent and helpful suggestions, while the brainstorming section found us throwing out suggestions that weren't helpful (and some were REALLY inappropriate). In the end, I think that it was harder to take the brainstorming as seriously as the NGT exercise simply due to the structure inherent in the design of both systems.

A search on the Psychology Wikia page showed that these problems in the brainstorming process are not unique to our group (see my latest Internet Marketing blog post HERE for more on Wikia). To quote the page,

"Although brainstorming has become a popular group technique, researchers have generally failed to find evidence of its effectiveness for enhancing either quantity or quality of ideas generated. Because of such problems as distraction, social loafing, evaluation apprehension, and production blocking, brainstorming groups are little more effective than other types of groups, and they are actually less effective than individuals working independently. For this reason, there have been numerous attempts to improve brainstorming or replace it with more effective variations of the basic technique."

I thought this was interesting. While brainstorming does generate a good AMOUNT of ideas, it turns out that the process as a whole isn't very effective. What I found was that production blocking was a problem in our group. Production Blocking is when one person kind of breaks the rules and starts talking about their idea, effectively "blocking" anyone else from talking, which sort of undermines the entire purpose of brainstorming, which is supposed to be a rapid-fire idea generation forum. I found that this was a problem with the brainstorming portion of the in-class exercise. When people would call out an idea, there was some knee-jerk reaction that caused most of us to instantly start defending and discussing our idea, which wasn't really conducive to coming up with a good quantity of information, with people taking time to defend rather than contribute. On top of that, we were way too susceptible to distractions, constantly clowning around and generally being off topic, like this:

(Image courtesy of some dude on photobucket)

That being said, the NGT portion of the exercise went much smoother. The silent portion where everyone took time to write down their ideas allows people to think in what I believe to be a more linear fashion, rather than the kind of scattered format of brainstorming. Then, when we all went around and made our list of suggestions, there was much more focus. There wasn't really any goofing around or anything, and everyone contributed really thoughtful suggestions. When we went around to discuss the ideas, the conversation was largely mature and helpful, with people defending the ideas they liked while others politely questioned them. I found this decision-making tactic to be a lot more conducive to a good work flow.

But then we should think about when these techniques are most effective, because they both have their uses. I feel like brainstorming would be a lot more effective in large groups, where people can call out their ideas, while NGT would be more appropriate in a small committee or team where more time can be taken for individuals to discuss and vet their ideas.


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