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Ideation Tools and Techniques 

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Problem Identification & Construction

When attempting to identify and construct a problem, a team or individual must first properly define the problem. The solutions generated are directly dependent on how a problem is originally defined and can vary widely.  For the best solution, the right question must be asked. Creativity must also be incorporated throughout all of the stages in identifying, constructing, and defining a problem.


In order to understand the concept of creativity in problem solving it is important to differentiate between individual and team creativity. Individual creativity is the most critical element in team creativity, because in order to have team creativity, you must first have individual creativity [Illies and Reiter-Palmon 2004]. Multiple factors affect an individual including: personality, motivation, and cognitive process and there are many different group dynamics that can affect team creativity.


When initially identifying the problem, it is important to first define the parameters and problems associated with the main goal. This can be done on an individual and group level. Individuals should first engage in the problem identification process and focus on the main goals, restrictions, and information necessary to reach them. This means coming together to form a group initiative, such as setting group goals, and evaluating the work done during the problem identification step.  Spending more time on creative thinking will result in more creative solutions [Illies and Reiter-Palmon 2004]. Individuals should come up with multiple goals and restrictions, and also consider how the problems should be approached and constructed.  An example of a goal would be the main focus of why the group was formed and what it wants to accomplish while taking into account restrictions that apply to processes that aren’t available for the group to use.


It is important to evaluate before transitioning into the problem construction phase that the problem is defined correctly. The key to developing the right creative solution is to ask the right question. If the problem is not well defined if there can be problems including the ability of the problem to be viewed in multiple ways, have multiple causes, and have multiple possible solutions.


In creative problem solving, three components of creativity are proven to aid in individual creativity, they are expertise, creative-thinking skills, and intrinsic task motivation [Robbins and Judge 2007]. Expertise enhances creativity because one comes equipped with the knowledge and past experiences of their particular field. The more proficient one already is at any given task, the more likely they will be able to generate new and novel ideas. Creative-thinking skills take into account personalities, the ability to use analogies, and the talent to see the familiar in a different light [Robbins and Judge 2007]. The ability to use analogies and see the familiar in a different light relay the idea of being able to apply an old experience with a new one. Seeing an old problem in a new way can often lead to a creative solution. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to work on something because it’s interesting, involving, exciting, satisfying or personally challenging [Robbins and Judge 2007]. Motivation is the key to actuality, and intrinsic motivation allows an individual to stay involved because it’s something they genuinely would like to spend their time doing.


Applying these three concepts on an individual level will help foster creativity.  When constructing a problem, it’s important to take into consideration how the individual will view the problem and also how they will apply their skills to it. In conclusion, focusing on how the problem is defined will help to remove barriers that could lead to an erroneous route in the problem construction phase.


PPM Process

The Group Process Model for Problem Identification and Program Planning developed by André L. Delbecq and Andrew H. Van de Ven has been used by a number of organizations to help identify problems. The objective is to break down the problem into smaller more workable entities. This is done though a five phase approach; Problem Exploration, Knowledge Exploration, Priority development, Program Development and Program Evaluation [Delbecq and Van De Ven 1971]. These phases are designed to breakdown, analyst and solve the problem. In real life situations this process is repeated and analyzed in a more in-depth level to make sure the end result is error free and solves the problem that they have identified at the start of the process.


In the Problem Exploration phase the group will identify the problem and what they are trying to get out of resolving the problem [Delbecq and Van De Ven 1971]. The group will vote and decide which course of action is best to approach the problem. Then the group will vote again and finalize the main points of the problem.


In the Knowledge Exploration phase the group will identify external experts whose skills will be able to help them analyze the problem [Delbecq and Van De Ven 1971]. In the Problem Exploration we have broken down the problem into subtopics. The objective of Knowledge Exploration, phase two, is to identify people who can help analyze these subtopics most effectively.


In the Priority Development phase the main objective is to use the advice from the people identified in the previous phase and prioritize the subtopics based on length, difficulty and relation to the problem [Delbecq and Van De Ven 1971]. This is a key part of the process, as this objective will determine the length and quality of the finished solution.


In the Program Development phase the goal is to put the entire project together. The last three phases should have identified and organized the subtopic. This phase develops a plan to solve the problem. The proposal is to help the team clearly understand the problem and the path to the solution [Delbecq and Van De Ven 1971].


In the final phase, Program Evaluation, the goal is to analyze the solution once it has been finished. Everyone from all of the phases will make sure that the problem has been solved and the desired result has been attainted. This process, once finished will be one cycle of the PPM process [Delbecq and Van De Ven 1971].


Roles within Groups and the effect on Problem Identification and Construction

It is important to understand the roles that managers and their subordinates play when they are part of the same team dynamic during problem identification and construction sessions.  When the team’s goal is to identify problems, in order for the team to have experience maximum success, participation from all team members is essential.  However, when managers and their subordinates are placed on the same problem identification and construction teams, pre-established relationships may prevent the team from achieving its goals.  Communication among managers and their staffs cannot be constructive until factual information is the focus, not politics, and the information itself is accurate and trusted [Sears 2007].


When subordinates participate in team problem identification and construction activities in concert with their manager, the subordinates must be able to feel that they can freely contribute to team discussions, without the fear of repercussions.  Just as important, subordinates must come to believe that they have equal ownership in team discussions, and that their contributions to the team will be valued.  If the team leader fails to address these issues, at the outset of the problem identification and construction session, there is little likelihood that full participation from the subordinate members of the team will be achieved [Sears 2007].


Managers that participate in problem identification and construction team activities with their subordinates, have an added responsibility to recognize any reluctance their subordinates may exhibit, that would hinder their subordinates from fully participate in team discussion [Sears 2007]. This added responsibility exists for managers, even when they are not operating in the capacity of team leader.  Managers must still take actions to address any negative anxiety that they perceive their subordinates may be harboring that could prevent their subordinates from fully participating in team discussions.  Furthermore, it is part of their responsibility to assist the team leader, with persuading subordinate members that each member of the team’s opinions will be valued.


In order for the team to be able to demonstrate success in identifying and constructing problems, the individual who is placed in the role of team leader must be an individual that can convey the idea to the team that each team member is on equal footing with their peers.  If the team leader fails to get that message across to the team members, the team has little chance of pulling their collective knowledge against the problems that the team will be confronting [Deeprose 1995].  In essence if the message of equality amongst team members is not delivered and well received, in the end the team would fail to deliver the required solutions.


Personality Types and Problem Solving

Understanding the personality type of an individual within a team is important to the effectiveness of a group. When a team starts the problem solving process, some individuals prefer to take time to think and clarify their ideas before they begin discussing, this is called introversion. Some however prefer to talk through their ideas in order to clarify them and this is called extraversion. Introverts are more likely concerned with their own understanding of important concepts and ideas, whereas extroverts seek feedback from the team about the viability of their ideas [Huitt 1992].


Another type is a sensing individual who will pay more attention to facts, details, and reality. They tend to select standard solutions that have done in the past. Intuitive individuals will attend to the meaningfulness of the fact, and possibilities of the future. Thus, they always create new original solutions. People with a ‘thinking’ preference will focus on logic and analysis. They want solutions to make sense in terms of the facts, models, and principles under consideration. On the other hand, people with a ‘feeling’ preference will be more likely to consider values and feelings in a problem-solving process. They tend to be subjective in their decision-making and care more about other people’ feelings [Huitt 1992].


Problem-Solving Techniques

In the study Problem Solving and Decision Making: Consideration of individual differences using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Huitt [1992] claims that it is necessary to identify specific techniques of attending to individual differences. There are variety of problem-solving techniques have been developed accordingly to individual preferences.


The following techniques suit for people with logic and critical thinking [Huitt 1992]:

  • Analysis--the identification of the components of a situation and consideration of the relationships among the parts.


  • Backwards Planning--a goal selection process where mid-range and short-term conditions necessary to obtain the goal are identified this technique is related to the more general technique of means-ends analysis.


  • Categorizing/Classifying--the process of identifying and selecting rules to group objects, events, ideas, people, etc.


  • Challenging Assumptions--the direct confrontation of ideas, opinions, or attitudes that have previously been taken for granted.


  • Evaluating/Judging--comparison to a standard and making a qualitative or quantitative judgment of value or worth.


  • Inductive/Deductive Reasoning--the systematic and logical development of rules or concepts from specific instances or the identification of cases based on a general principal or proposition using the generalization and inference.


  • Thinking Aloud--the process of verbalizing about a problem and its solution while a partner listens in detail for errors in thinking or understanding.


  • Network Analysis--a systems approach to project planning and management where relationships among activities, events, resources, and timelines are developed and charted. Specific examples include Program Evaluation and Review Technique and Critical Path Method.


  • Plus-Minus-Interesting (PMI)--considering the positive, negative, and interesting or thought-provoking aspects of an idea or alternative using a balance sheet grid where plus and minus refer to criteria identified in the second step of the problem-solving process.


  • Task analysis--the consideration of skills and knowledge required to learn or perform a specific task.


The following problem-solving techniques target on creative, lateral, or divergent thinking [Huitt 1992]:

  • Brainstorming--attempting to spontaneously generate as many ideas on a subject as possible; ideas are not critiqued during the brainstorming process; participants are encouraged to form new ideas from ideas already stated.


  • Imaging/Visualization--producing mental pictures of the total problem or specific parts of the problem.


  • Incubation--putting aside the problem and doing something else to allow the mind to unconsciously consider the problem.


  • Outcome Psychodrama--enacting a scenario of alternatives or solutions through role-playing.


  • Outrageous Provocation--making a statement that is known to be absolutely incorrect and then considering it; used as a way to lead to a new idea.


  • Overload--considering a large number of facts and details until the logic part of the brain becomes overwhelmed and begins looking for patterns, sensitivity training, or similar experiences.


  • Random Word Technique--selecting a word randomly from the dictionary and comparing it with problem statement, then brainstorming about possible relationship.


  • Synthesizing--combining parts or elements into a new and original pattern.


  • Taking Another's Perspective—Using another’s point of view, referred to as "be someone else".


  • K. Values clarification--using techniques such as role-playing, simulations, self-analysis exercises, and structured controversy to gain a greater understanding of attitudes and beliefs that individuals hold important.


Table of MBTI Dimensions important for Problem Solving and Decision-Making [Huitt 1992]

MBTI Dimension


Criteria for Judging Effectiveness




Outside world of people and things

Can "talk through" problem in group

Works in "real world"


Thinking aloud

Outcome psychodrama

Attend to external reality

Listen to others


Inner world of ideas

Internal logic, value of ideas

Want to reflect on problem

Brainstorming privately


Attend to internal consistency of solutions


Facts and details from past and present

Personal experience

Practicality of solutions

Conforms to standards

Share personal values, ideas facts,


Inductive reasoning

Random word technique

Attend to details

What could go wrong

Develop and implement specific steps of solution


Concepts and principles

Possibilities for the future

Meaningfulness of facts, details

Solutions consider total situation

Prospect for originality

Classify, categorize,

Deductive reasoning

Challenge assumptions

Imaging/ visualization


See connections and links

Develop complex solutions

Implications of improper solution(s)

Develop major phases



Logic and reason

Solutions make sense based on facts, models, and/or principles

Classify, categorize


Network analysis

Task analysis

Attend to internal and external consistencies

Evaluate for efficiency and effectiveness



Values and affect

Solutions consider impact on people

Share personal values Listen to others' values

Values clarification

Evaluate for impact on people

Evaluate in terms of valued by participants


Organization Structure and closure

Decisions are made Solution can be


A step-by-step

procedure to follow


PMI technique

Backward planning

Select single solution

Identify possible defects

Follow steps during


Evaluate for effectiveness and efficiency


Data gathering Processing solutions

Solutions are flexible and adaptable

Enough information provided in solution

Variety of alternatives considered


Random word technique

Outrageous provocation

Taking another's perspective

Develop complex solutions



Information Search

During our waking hours, we are constantly involved in a perpetual cycle that revolves around seeking information, also known as information searches, and processing the information that we have obtained.  It could be said that performing information searches are actually encoded into our human DNA.  As the old saying goes “you learn something new every day”, the actual truth is that you are constantly learning throughout the day. 


In general if an individual conducts an active information search, it is assumed that the information gathered will be acted upon.  Once the information has been gathered, the obtained information undergoes a decision making process.  One of the first decisions to be made about the information that has been gathered is whether or not the information should be retained or discarded.  This also holds true for information that was obtained passively as well, it too must undergo the same initial decision process.  If the decision is made to retain the information that was obtained through an active information search, the next decision process that the information undergoes is whether it should be acted on immediately or in the very near future, or should the information be stored at the ready, until the right opportunity is presented that calls for the use of the information. 


When individuals are performing active information searches for specific information, it is common for them to develop a consideration set.  The consideration set, also known as the evoked set, is the result of a funneling process that immensely simplifies information search activities [Keiningham et al. 2005].  The consideration set, is the specific criterion, on which the information will be judged as suitable for retaining or unsuitable for retaining and thus should be summarily discarded. 


An example of a consideration set can be obtained from an exercise that entails baking an apple pie.  The recipe card may call for the exclusive use of McIntosh Apples, as the primary ingredient in the pie.  One of the characteristics of McIntosh apples is that they contain a combination of sweet and tart flavors.  The skin on McIntosh Apples also displays red and green undertone skin.  This information about McIntosh Apples would become part of the consideration set that would be used when the time came to select the apples.  Thus while selecting apples at the supermarket, yellow apples could quickly be passed over and deemed unsuitable, because they are not part of the consideration set.


Sometimes during active information searches, unrelated information can be obtained during the search process.  All though the information may not be regarded as useful or part of the consideration set, it may possess enough value for future recall, thus it would be considered to be inert information.  Inert information is can be said to be information that we absorb, but do not actually understand, even though we may think we do [Richardson 2009].  Suppose that while at the supermarket searching for McIntosh Apples, you observed a strange green gourd looking fruit.  After reading the sign you discovered that the fruit was a Cherimoya you don’t bother reading any of the description, instead you elect to continue the search for McIntosh Apples.  The Cherimoya is processed and considered information, which if need be can be recalled at a later date. 


In conclusion, information searches can be active or passive.  The information that is gathered during information searches undergoes a decision process.  The filter that is used to strain the information that is obtained through active information searches is known as a consideration set.  And even during active information searches, information that is not part of the consideration set is sometimes retained and classified as inert information that can be recalled later.


Increases and Decreases in Creativity Durring Information Searching 

Depending on if the goal of the group or individual is to be creative, there are strategies that could increase creativity while searching for information.  At the same time, there are actions or behaviors that we would want to be avoided while searching for information because they could decrease creativity.  We will explain in more detail about enhancing creativity.


One of the more effective ways to increase creativity is putting time and effort into the searching [Illies and Reiter-Palmon 2004].  Other factors that increase creativity are obtaining relevant information and diverse sources, which will make the information varied.  Diverse information can increase the creativity from both internal and external information. In order to retrieve diverse information, different strategies will be used whether it is being retrieved individually or by a team.


Each team member’s internal information would not necessarily be very diverse, so in order to obtain more diverse information he or she would have to reach out to other people to access their internal information, such as forming a team, doing an experiment or conducting interviews.  With a team, each person has their own internal information and the goal is to get each person to share their relevant and diverse information.  


A factor that would increase the diversity in a team, which would also inadvertently increase the creativity, is frame of reference.  A frame of reference is a set of norms, values, or ideas that affect the way somebody interacts with others, either in everyday life or in a particular situation [Encarta 2009].  A barrier that was mentioned earlier, for a team is retrieving the internal information from other team members.  A member of the team could be shy or could think that the information that they have is not relevant to the topic. However, what is not relevant to one member could be relevant for another.  One piece of irrelevant information from one member could trigger relevant information from another member. There are many different techniques and exercises for recalling and sharing internal information that will be discussed later.


To retrieve diverse information externally, whether it is individually or in a team, is mostly the same process.  The object is to get different types of sources. Obtaining a large amount of diverse information could help them increase the creativity.  Also keep in mind that just because information is found and it proves a theory or hypothesis wrong does not mean the information will not be useful.  While being creative, it is a good idea to look at all angles of the problem or topic, even if it is not correct.


Earlier it was said that putting time and effort into information searching would increase creativity and therefore creativity can be decreased by not putting time and effort into the search. Another way to decrease creativity is by trying to retain too much information.  It is only important to remember the relevant information.  Being creative takes a lot of brainpower and thought and during this time if someone is trying to be creative and they are also trying to remember all the various information they researched, then they might not be as productive as if they focused on a few things and thought more. 


Information Sharing Within a Team

In the modern working environment it is becoming increasingly common across different industries for teams to be responsible for making high stakes decisions. A great advantage in making decisions and sharing information in a team environment is that when these groups function as a cohesive unit, the decision making process will be influenced by many diverse personal experiences, educational backgrounds, and cultures. Once the capacity to share information is increased then the success rate of a project will increase exponentially.


According to Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Leslie A. DeChurch [2009], who collectively published a journal entitled “Information Sharing and Team Performance: A Meta-Analysis”, there are three factors which they claim affect the team information sharing process, they are task demonstrability, discussion structure, and cooperation. In order to further understand how each factor contributes to the enhancement of information sharing, we will dissect each.


Task Demonstrability, as defined by Dr. Wasson from an article entitled “Evaluation of the effects of solution demonstrability on group performance outcomes” [2009], is the known correct recognizable solution by a group member, who has the ability to demonstrate that correct solution.  Therefore a member of the collaborative team acting as an individual or acting in concert has to be able to deduce or acquire the correct solution and then effectively demonstrate that solution to fellow group members via some form of communication. Once a desired result can be reached, shared, and repeated the outcome of the group improves and can be evaluated.


Discussion Structure is defined as the roles and relationships that enable individuals within a group setting to participate in relevant discussions, without individual members feeling left out of the discussion [Hawryszkiewycz and Moor 1998].  Different structures produce unique group dynamics and therefore diverse results and unequal levels of sharing and participation. Discussion Structure, as it relates to information sharing within a team, can be viewed as being equally as important as task demonstrability and the importance of this key component to information sharing cannot be understated.


Cooperation as it pertains to information sharing must be based on common goals and mutual trust. [Crawford et al. 2007] A team cannot effectively exist without the team members having the ability to demonstrate ongoing cooperation. The role of cooperation as it applies to members of a team should not be downplayed. Emphasizing common goals and a common objective will enhance the flow of information to reach the shared objective.


According to research by Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus and Leslie A. DeChurch [2009], many times situations where teams may naturally avoid sharing information when it is particularly critical for them to do so. Group members share information the most in three situations:


 1. All members already know the information

 2. Members are all capable of making accurate decisions independently

 3. Members are highly similar to one another 


These findings suggest that groups of people that would stand to gain the most from information sharing, groups that do not have members with redundant knowledge on their team, are actually the types of groups that share the least. This shows the difference between the ideal goal of people with different areas of knowledge and experience coming together to share information to make a decision and what many times transpires in the real world. This report shows that teams share the most when they have the least to gain from information sharing and share the least when the knowledge areas of each member are different from each other on the subject to be decided.


A barrier to information sharing that a team may encounter is Confirmation Bias.  A Confirmation Bias is when an individual has a tendency to filter information to retain only what conforms to one's preferences, and to reject that does not [Business Dictionary 2009].  If someone is constantly only hearing their side of the argument and is not open to any other ideas besides the ideas they propose then it will make communication and creativity extremely difficult, for that individual and for the team. To make the diverse team a success it would involve the team members being good at communicating and sharing their information.  It helps to have a positive environment that welcomes information, good or bad, relevant or irrelevant. 


Idea Generation

There are hundreds of techniques designed to improve creativity during the idea generation phase. We will discuss three useful techniques.


1. Decomposition is breaking a problem into a set of subcategories that are considered separately. This encourages individuals to devote their attention to the entire set of categories more evenly thereby improving performance [Pitz et al. 1980]. The main idea behind decomposition is problem structuring. This includes identifying the relevant variables in a problem situation and the important relationships among those variables (Pitz et al. 1980). An individual’s ability to structure a problem is largely dependent on and limited by his or her cognitive abilities.


2. Instructing People to be Creative. Researchers done by the Creative Education Foundation [2005] found that increasing the creativity does not necessarily mean that an organization has to implement difficult techniques or expensive investments. People can be creative because they are simply told to be creative. The facilitation effects of the explicit instruction can vary by domains of the creativity tasks, but not across cultural and ethnic groups.


3. Analogy is a process whereby structured knowledge from a well-known source domain in the form of objects, simple relations, and higher-order relations is mapped to a less-well-known target domain in service of understanding, explaining, communicating about, or making interferences about the problem [Markman and Wood 2009]. If used, the leader must, however, clearly explain the link between the analogy and the problem at hand [Mumford et al. 1997; Reeves and Weisberg 1994; Reiter-Palmon et al. 1997]. Furthermore managers should instruct their team to focus more on information that is less similar (think outside of the box) and to think more broadly about the subject [Mumford et al. 1997]. Once again, the use of analogies refers to problem structuring, which, in turn, will lead to improved problem understanding. 


Teams & Creativity

As far as teams are concerned, there are several interesting ideas to consider which improve creativity or solve team related problems.  If the group is diversified, the likelihood of creative ideas increases. The interaction with people who have different ideas can be an incentive to stimulate your cognitive idea generation. Membership change is similar to group diversity but is only effective if the new members enter the team in an early phase of the process. If the team has already made some major decisions, membership change could lead to frustration or decreasing motivation among existing team members. An advantage of teams is that they can capitalize on the multiple ideas suggested by team members.


Brainstorming techniques are very popular to generate ideas but since the interaction of all members is required to get the best results, it is important that every team member has the opportunity to suggest his or her ideas. As an example, every member could write down solutions. After some time all these papers are collected and each idea is treated equally. This kind of brainstorming technique has several advantages. First, everyone is able to contribute to the generation of ideas. It happens a lot that the “talk-a-lot” of the team presents his or her idea in a way so that introvert people are neglecting to say their idea in public. Second, internal conflicts among team members are eliminated since the idea and the person who has generated the idea are separated. It could happen that there is an internal conflict between two members of the team. It could be that one will reject every idea of the other one, no matter how good the idea is. Since the ideas are considered one by one, without mentioning the original creator every idea is treated the same way. Conflict could facilitate creative thinking, but only if we can focus on ideas and not criticize the person.


Idea Evaluation & Selection

Once a team has generated ideas, the next step in the creative process is to evaluate those ideas and to select the best idea as a solution to be implemented. It may seem simple to just look at the options and choose the best one however that is not usually the case. There is not always a standout solution that is better than the others. Evaluation is important in breaking down each option individually and determining how feasible it is. The evaluation process takes you back and forth between divergent and convergent thought. Some ideas will be rejected straight off. Others will be revised over and over again until some of them are rejected. More revision of the remaining ideas will lead to the selection of the idea to be implemented.


The example used in idea generation was to come up with as many uses as possible for a brick.  There are two aspects of idea generation that can be looked at: Fluency and Flexibility.  The fluency of the brick example was the time necessary to come up with a number of ideas. In the idea evaluation stage, we look at the idea flexibility. Flexibility is assessed by categorizing ideas into groupings of similar uses [Goncalo 2004]. For example, one list for the uses of a brick may be to build a house, build a church, build a hospital, or build a bridge. A different list for uses of a brick may be to build a house, build a church, hold open a door, or use as a weapon. Flexibility would refer to the extent to which the ideas for the uses of a brick crossed multiple categories [Goncalo 2004]. So, the first list would not be very flexible since there is only one use given for a brick: "to build" something. The second list would be considered more flexible since there are three different categories for usage of a brick: to build something, to hold something open, and to harm someone.


The brick example can help explain several important aspects of the idea evaluation and selection stage. One of the important aspects of this stage is that convergent and divergent thinking are recursive. Convergent thinking can be described as bringing relevant information together and coming to a firm conclusion based on that information [Runco 1999]. Divergent thinking can be described as thoughts, which lead to different directions no matter how unconventional or original they may be [Runco 1999]. In the above example, divergent thought is being executed by coming up with uses for a brick other than building, e.g. to hold a door open. On the other hand, convergent thought is being executed in using the brick to build more than one thing, e.g. a house, a church, a hospital. Generally, more convergent thought is used in evaluation as the already generated ideas are judged and chosen [Brophy 1998]. That does not mean that there is absolutely no divergent thought in the process. This means that they both occur over and over again. Convergent thought is present in evaluating and narrowing down the decisions. Divergent thought is present in revising ideas or making conventional ideas more original. Convergent thought recurs in narrowing down the now revised ideas to select the best one. Divergent thinking recurs when a choice is made and ideas are generated on how best to implement. The cycle of convergent/divergent thought continues on until one idea has been selected, evaluated, and is ready for implementation.


There are three options to use when evaluating and selecting an idea to implement: rejection, revision, and implementation. Say that a group is given 7,000 bricks and have to decide what to build with them. The ideas are generated, and the options the group has are to build a house, build a church, or build a pathway. Again, we see the convergent thought - each option is to build something. One option is rejection; obviously this means that an idea can be rejected. For this example we will say that the group rejects the ideas of building the church and the pathway. The group has decided that the bricks will be used to build a house. The house design the group chooses is not feasible given the number of bricks the group has to work with. Another option the group has is revision. Revision simply means re-evaluating the option and changing it so that it can be implemented. In this case, the group may decide to leave one room off the house. The third option the group has is to implement their design, which will be discussed further later.


In this stage of the problem solving process, having a team could be more beneficial if the members of the team have a shared mental model. Having a group of people may help in the evaluation of ideas in that more alternatives may be made available. The thing to remember in this instance is that more is not necessarily better. Individual findings show that standards for evaluation will come from the construction phase of the problem solving process. A problem that can occur when individuals work together as a team is that different individuals will have different standards. Because of this some individuals will be more or less accurate in evaluating.


Role of group leader to foster creativity in the idea evaluation & selection phase

First, a leader should articulate to the team the criteria on which the solutions will be evaluated. Second, leaders should partake and encourage in the assessment of consequences of the implementation, both positive and negative [Reiter-Palmon 2004]. Remember to think about both short-term and long-term consequences; again, more ideas will lead to more creative results. Even looking for obstacles that might hinder the implementation might help at this point. Maybe the most important role for leaders in this phase is the establishment of an open and trusted culture where information and ideas can be vocalized risk-free among group members and also in between the group and the leader. [Amabile and Gryskiewicz 1989]


Idea Generation

Previously, Brainstorming was identified as being an effective idea generating technique.  However, in order to obtain a better understanding of Brainstorming techniques, a deeper look at some of the Brainstorming sub-categories that fall under the Brainstorming umbrella is required.   


Structured Brainstorming takes place in a group environment, where as after the problem has been defined, one at a time each member of the group is asked to contribute an idea toward the solution.  If a group member is unable to contribute an idea toward the possible solution (when it is their turn), they are allowed to pass, and the question is presented to the next group member in line.  The next group member then takes their turn and provides input in the form of a verbal contribution to the group’s collective problem [Vaughn 2010].  This process continues on until all of the members have passed consecutively, all members passing consecutively signifies the end of the Structured Brainstorming session.  One reason that Structured Brainstorming is a valuable Brainstorming technique is that it eliminates the possibility of any one person dominating the discussion, which can lead to the stifling of other team member’s contributions [Vaughn 2010].


Nominal Group Technique (NGT) when utilized in a group setting for idea generation can be an extremely successful Brainstorming technique.  In theory, the Nominal Group Technique is conceptually similar to the Structured Brainstorming technique.  However one of the main differences between the two techniques is that at the onslaught of the discussion, members that are participating in NGT are asked to write their solutions down on a piece of paper, and then a round-robin discussion is held, where each member is asked to share their idea [Caldwell 1997].  The one caveat is that if a member has already submitted the idea to the group, then a different group member cannot resubmit the ideal.  In similar fashion to Structured Brainstorming ideas are continually submitted, until each member has been forced to pass [Caldwell 1997].  Nominal Group Technique is a useful technique at the beginning of a facilitation assignment when participants can be reluctant to express themselves because they are not yet comfortable with their role in the process [Caldwell 1997].


The Gordon Technique is another group idea generation Brainstorming Technique that is not unlike the two previously discussed techniques.  However, one element that sets this technique apart from the aforementioned techniques is that the group leader in the Gordon Technique plays a pivotal role in the execution of this technique.  The leader begins by introducing a very broad and abstract definition of the problem to the group, and then starts to take ideas from the group members. Next, the leader narrows the statement through several stages, each time retaining previous suggestions, which still apply to the narrower statement [Vaughn 2010]. The exact problem is not identified until the leader feels that all possible solutions have been explored [Thiry 1997].  The Gordon Technique is an effective Technique to use, particularly when one of the goals of the team leader is to ensure the precise jelling of a newly formed team.


There are pros and cons that can be attributed to each of the brainstorming techniques, but the same can be said about any idea generating brainstorming techniques.  In order to select the right technique for the right setting, an evaluation of the personnel that will be participating in the idea generating activities is warranted. 


Change of Perspective encourages users to consider problems from different agent perspectives. It works by implemented for the rule “Challenge” which is created as assumptions challenge questions the beliefs of users. Change of perspective helps in problem-solving method be modifying of background of problems. For example, regarding a service (e.g., GPS tool) originally provided for mobile users, the system might ask whether it could be made available to stationary users.


Verbal Ideation and Brainstorming  is based on the research done by Santanen [2005] that found that there are two weaknesses of verbally interactive brainstorming groups when compared to nominal brainstorming groups. First, nominal groups tend to produce a greater number of solutions that are of greater quality or higher creativity than do interactive groups of the same size. Second, as interactive groups grow larger in size, the number of solutions generated by each member, the quality of solutions, and the creativity of solutions all tend to decline. Thus, based upon the above evidence, it might seem that brainstorming is better suited to individuals than to groups. 


Electronic Brainstorming uses microcomputers and specialized software that supports electronic brainstorming creates a very different interpersonal dynamic among the group members when compared to verbal brainstorming. Electronic brainstorming largely reduces the impact of production blocking since individuals can contribute ideas in parallel as well as evaluation apprehension through the use of anonymity. Using electronic brainstorming [Dennis and Valacich 1993] discovered that as group size increased (using 3, 9, and 18 member groups), so too did the number and quality of solutions such that large groups outperformed medium sized groups that, in turn, outperformed small groups. Further analysis in both experimental conditions (comparing small to medium, and medium to large groups) revealed that average per-person contributions remained relatively constant across various group sizes.


A limiting factor occurred in ideation called ‘Social loafing’ [Latane et al. 1979]. This effect was initially identified in experiments by industrial psychologist Walther Moede when one of his students described a reduction in effort that occurred when individuals working in a group were not directly accountable for their performance [Ingham et al. 1974]. Despite the fact that those initial studies involved physical exertion tasks, other studies examined that effect in cognitive tasks and found similar results [Brickner et al. 1986]. As such, electronic brainstorming systems (EBS) could be expected to evoke loafing behaviors since anonymity is commonly used for ideation sessions [Dennis and Reinicke 2004]. However, Harkins [1987] found that when participants work together on a task, “their outputs can be compared and they work harder than participants working alone”. He called this a social comparison effect and concluded that this effect was a form of evaluation that would overcome social loafing [Harkins 1987]. The paired-participant approach may help overcome the effect of social loafing since each participant’s contributions will be immediately visible to another participant.


Verbal Brainstorming vs. Electronic Brainstorming. Most of the prior GSS (Group Support System) and EBS (Electronic Brainstorming) research has been guided by the process gains and losses framework [Hill 1982; Steiner 1972]. Simply put, communication among group members introduces factors into the brainstorming process that act to improve performance (process gains) and factors that act to impair performance (process losses) relative to individuals who work separately without communicating but who later pool ideas (called nominal groups). Several dozen plausible sources of process losses and gains in verbal and electronic brainstorming have been proposed [Camacho and Paulus 1995; Mullen et al. 1991; Pinsonneault et al. 1999]. Two process gains (synergy, social facilitation) and five process losses (production blocking, social loafing, evaluation apprehension, cognitive interference, and communication speed) have received the most research attention and are the ones that we believe are most important [Dennis and Valacich 1999; Diehl and Stroebe 1987; Pinsonneault and Barki, 1999; Pinsonneault et al. 1999].


Potential Process Gains and Losses












Synergy  None 

Increases as the size

of the group increases 

Increases as the size

of the group increases 

Social Facilitation

Depends on

Group Structure 

Some effect  Some effect 









Increases as the size

of the group increases





Increases as the size

of the group increases 




Depends on

Group Structure 

Increases as the size

of the group increases 

Increases as the size

of the group increases 




Increases as the size

of the group increases 

Some effect 



Some Effect  None  Some effect 


























*Source: [Paulus and Nijstad 2003]


The figure below indicates the overall trend effects for each method and the effects of group size. For example, overall process gains for both verbal and electronic brainstorming groups should increase with group size to some threshold level where the value of adding another participant will be only minimally positive. Process losses in verbal brainstorming groups should increase fairly quickly as the size of the group increases; previous research suggests that losses increase more quickly than gains, because nominal groups have outperformed verbal brainstorming groups. It should be noted, however, that some of the process losses incurred by verbal brainstorming groups will not follow a linear trend. For instance, although the effect of evaluative apprehension should increase with group size, social impact theory suggests that this effect will level off when the group reaches a threshold size. Additionally, the effect of production blocking by a single participant in a small group (e.g., 3–5 members) will have a larger proportional effect than in a large group (e.g., 25+ members). That is not to suggest an eventual decrease in process losses, but a curvilinear relationship. In contrast, process losses for EBS groups start higher (because of communication speed problems and the inherent loss of typing versus speaking) but increase much more slowly with group size. The primary message of figure below is the indication that at some point, process gains should exceed process losses, and EBS groups should outperform nominal groups.


Process Gains and Losses

*Source: [Paulus and Nijstad 2003]


According to the figure above, two conclusions have found. First, for verbal versus electronic groups, large EBS groups generate more ideas than similar size verbal brainstorming groups, but it is less clear in small groups. EBS introduces a fixed communication speed process loss due to the need to type, regardless of the size of the group. Conversely, small verbal groups suffer few production blocking losses, and, depending on the group, would also likely suffer few losses due to evaluation apprehension. The research found that for most small groups, the losses introduced in EBS due to the need to type would exceed the losses introduced in verbal brainstorming from production blocking and evaluation apprehension. Therefore, small verbal brainstorming groups should generate more ideas than similar size EBS groups.


The second conclusion pertains to nominal versus electronic groups. Nominal groups experience gains only from social facilitation, the same gains we could logically expect for EBS groups. Electronic groups, however, experience synergy that increases with group size. Both nominal and electronic groups can be expected to experience similar losses due to social loafing (modest), production blocking (none), and evaluation apprehension (none). Electronic groups may suffer from cognitive interference and may suffer more from communication speed effects because participants must type, whereas nominal groups can write, which may be faster. Once again, the use of EBS imposes an initial fixed cost, which may be overcome as group size increases. Thus, the research found that small nominal brainstorming groups should generate more ideas than small EBS groups. Conversely, large EBS groups should generate more ideas than large nominal brainstorming groups.


What is a “small” group? The research had used different modalities (nominal, verbal, EBS) into two different groups. With groups of three the research found that slight production losses in verbal groups and slight enhancement in writing groups [Coskun et al. 2000]. With groups of four the result showed that 50% production losses for verbal but for EBS and writing [Paulus and Yang 2000] the research had found production gains. So the critical size of the group appears to be somewhere in the range of one to three members. 


One Page 

In another ideation study, in an investigation into ill-structured problem solving using both verbally interactive groups and individuals working alone, Campbell [DENNIS at el. 1993] provided industry members with the Change of Work Problem [Diehl et al. 1965; Stroebe and Frey 1982; Bouchard 1972; Diehl and Stroebe 1987]. Three different solutions were recorded and scored in the experimental group: an individual solution, a second individual solution after participating in the group, and a group solution. These solutions were then scored and compared. The results indicated that the quality of the group solution was inferior to the composite score of the nominal group and also to the average individual score. Overall, the researchers found a negative correlation between solution quality and group interaction. This study employed a One Page Thinklet, which means all of the contributions of the group would be displayed in a single area which can quickly lead to information overload in a group.


Summary of previous studies including Thinkets attributes

*[Santanen 2005]


Implementation planning

When the individual or team effort in the Idea Evaluation & Selection phase offers a top solution, the next phase is of course to go on and implement the idea. Is it time to get your hands dirty already? Not really. Having a well thought out idea is one thing, yet implementing it might still pose problems. And the last thing you want is to see all your hard work go down in flames because of reckless implementation. The implementation phase must be immaculately planned, leaving virtually nothing to chance.


So now that you have selected the best or most suitable solution to your problem. How do you go about implementing it and getting the desired result? This is what implementation planning is all about. The implementation plan is a detailed listing of activities, costs, expected difficulties, and schedules that are required to achieve the objective of strategic plans. There are 3 main steps that one needs to complete in order to present an implementation plan, you want to develop an action plan, identify any possible obstacles and finally develop possible solutions to all those problems. Remember, you want this goal achieved; there is no room for mistakes. 


a) Develop an action plan

To start of your action plan you want to think about what steps or activities are necessary to get to your goal. This requires you to make a list of all the goals and ranking them in order of importance. Once you’ve agreed on this, you can start attaching due dates to any of the activities. Make sure your timeline is realistic; yet don’t make it too easy on yourself as well. Now that that’s out of the way you might want to think about the costs attached to all the requirements for said activities. This includes marketing efforts, salary costs, working expenses, etc.


b) Identify possible obstacles

Now that your action plan is made up, you might’ve noticed that some things aren’t as clear as you thought they were. Some constraints and obstacles come into play, and since most of the activities are interdependent, one missed due date might ruin your entire plan. Who would want to go to war with a battle plan filled with if’s and maybe’s?


It’s necessary that you sit down and think about everything that might negatively affect your plans. Are there unknown factors, are there risks to be taken, what dangers lurk around some corners? Try to be as extensive as you can. The better prepared for the task at hand, the easier the implementation will be.


c) Develop possible solutions

Since you have generated a good understanding of what the possible obstacles to your success might be, you go through the entire creative problem solving process again to clear any roadblocks or barriers.


In all of this it’s a given that we are not running into a forest blindfolded here. Make your decisions on data, or well-estimated guesses. At least try to forecast and generate some key figures necessary for your process. Try and stress test your results for maximum security. A stress test is a “what if” scenario that takes the world as given but assumes a major change in one or more variables in order to see what effect this would have on various indicators.


During this entire process you will need to be flexible and ready to go back and redo a certain step if the information tells you so. Implementing the idea is not the goal; it’s solving your problem that matters. If anything gives you the idea that the solution might be in danger, or that too much is relying on uncertainty, don’t hesitate to revise your entire plan.


Implementation Planning & Implementation

The Implementation Plan is the backbone of the decision making process, it is also a culmination of separate activities such as Idea Generation, Information Search and Idea Evaluation.  What Implementation Planning actually consists the process that allows the planners to dot all of the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s.” In fact Information Planning is where you answer those “who, what, when, and where” questions.  It can be said that Implementation Planning that many people think of when they talk about planning.


According to James Altier [1999], who wrote in his book Implementation Planning, most complex decisions require many events to happen in an appropriate sequence if the choice is to become a reality. Thus an Implementation Plan is called for, and there’s a seven-step process for developing it [Altier 1999]:


1. Formulate the Plan Statement

2. Identify Plan Objectives

3. Identify Plan Components

4. Schedule Events and Times

5. Revisit Components—Additional Analyses

6. Perform Objectives Test

7. Redraft the Plan


The process of formulating the Plan Statement sounds simple at the outset, it is the declaration statement that announces how the team actually intends on getting from A to Z.  Formulate the Plan Statement may be the single most rudimentary step in Implementation Planning, as it is designated the first step in Implementation Planning; get it wrong and the entire plan is in jeopardy.


Step Two, Identify Plan Objectives, could be considered as the “what” of the Implementation Plan, in the aforementioned “who, what, when, and where” statement.  A word of caution should be declared in regard to the actual Objectives, especially any objectives that have been identified, prior to the Implementation Planning Phase, it is such that so often the Objective’s role is to serve as overall macro guidelines for the development of the plan, usually there isn’t any need to determine their relative importance or value them [Altier 1999].  Too often in planning situations, once the macro course has been decided, people adopt a full-speed-ahead, we-don’t-need-to-do-any-more-thinking outlook, and suddenly everything has to be done yesterday [Altier 1999].


Step three is to Identify Plan Components of the Implementation Plan. This contains the information that will outlay the major decisions, which must be conducted with the plan, along with the key tasks that require attention.  Novice planners often glaze over this step or overlook it entirely, in their haste to get onto the Scheduling of Events and Times step.  Whereas experienced planners recognize the need to thoroughly identify the plan components [Altier 1999].  It is during the process, the interrelationships between the components that were identified during Step Three, are confirmed and established. 


Step Four, Scheduling Events and Times, are aligned with the “when” of the Implementation Plan “who, what, when, and where” statement.   In actuality, the Scheduling Events and Times, is the portion of the road map that that spells out what is supposed to happen and when. The problem solvers have identified what has to happen; now they have to create a time frame for their accomplishment


Step Five, Revisit Components--Additional Analyses is the step in which the planning team actually puts the Implementation Plan on pause, so that they may take the time to evaluate if they have identified the all of the requirements that will allow them to have a successful conclusion.  Upon re-evaluation, if it is found that some key components and/or tasks were omitted from the original Implementation Plan, they can easily be added to the plan during step five, with no detriment to the overall outcome of the plan.


Step Six, Perform Objectives Test is in essence the portion of the plan where litmus testing is conducted on the overall Implementation Plan.  During this step, the plan is thoroughly scrubbed and checked to ensure that the basic questions of“What, when, and where” have been answered.  If it found that the questions have not been satisfactorily answered, then if need be the team members will revisit one of the previous steps in the Implementation Plan, to ensure that all of the said questions are answered.


Step Seven, Redraft the Plan is a necessary step in any plan, and the fact that the plan has to be redrafted, should not be viewed as a failure to any part of the original plan.  Simply put, any plan of any consequence that is cast in concrete the first time around is either so evident that it doesn’t deserve to be called a plan or so loose that it’s likely be wasting resources [Altier 1999].


In conclusion, if the Implementation Team follows the steps laid out above, at the conclusion of their Implementation Planning Process, they should have a plan that is well thought out, succinct and one that should lead to the overall success of the project.


Implementation Intentions

If you’re not yet convinced that implementation planning is worth the effort, here’s a concept that will hopefully pull you over the line: implementation intentions. Implementation intentions basically specify when, where and how goal directed behavior is to be initiated. It builds on the concept of goal intention, which is nothing more than an intention to realize a specific wish. [Gollwitzer and Schaal 2001]


Implementation intentions help you focus more on what exactly you want to attain. It has been reported that simply telling yourself that “if Y happens you will do X”, which is nothing more than implementation intentions, results in a higher success rate for your goal. For example, in a test about Breast Self-Examinations (BSE) [Orbell et al. 1997] this was the surprising result. Of all the people who have reported to have strong intentions to perform BSE during the next month, 100% did so if they had been induced to form additional implementation intentions. If no additional implementation intentions were formed, however, the strong goal intention alone only produced 53% goal completion. As you can see, the simple action of planning your implementation and having the intention of implementing makes a big difference. 


What to do when working alone

If you’re working alone, this whole process might seem unnecessary. You know what you want to do and you think you have a good grasp of what you have to do to get there. Think again though, because your idea might be one in a million, without planning you could be throwing all of that away.


As should be clear from the previous information you can never attempt to rush things. Make sure you have a plan that covers all bases. Force yourself to be creative, thing about your problem from as many different angles as possible and look at the flaws. Do not be easy on yourself, the harder you work at this point, the easier the actual implementation will prove to be.


If you notice any mistakes at any point, do not be afraid to go back to an earlier stage and revise. Even the brightest people made mistakes. Only those who were smart enough to notice it, admit it, and then went on to correct them, came out as successful. Plan for as many different possible problems as you can, this is the best time to be concerned about all possible difficulties.


However, it’s not because there are risks involved that you shouldn’t go ahead with it. Nothing is ever free, simply make sure to try and cut back the risk as far as you can. If you have a plan of action for almost every event, you can go ahead. Remember, you are doing all of this because you had a problem. Look at your opportunities and try to protect them at all costs. 


What to do when working on a team

Teams, most of the time, have an easier time implementing their ideas. Not because everyone easily agrees with everyone else. Exactly the opposite: by arguing about certain key tasks they get a broadened view of the entire problem. This allows teams to identify more obstacles and barriers, which usually makes for a better Action Plan. Therefore, as an individual, try and talk to as much people as you can, enrich your experience with their insights. Do not scare away from any negative comments. They will prove very useful to you.


A team will also see more advantages than a single person, thus improving the solution by adding extra factors. A team will however need close coordination, discussion is fine, but at some point there has to be worked towards a consensus. Someone has to keep driving the team onwards; this is where the leader comes in. Planning has a lot of advantages for teams, for instance they get a better and shared understanding of the problem and its solution. Nonetheless, the danger of getting sidetracked is always there. It’s the leader’s task to keep his team focused and only let it stray away if he feels it might lead somewhere that adds value.


ThinkLets for Idea Generation


Ideation Thinklets 

You will recall from a previous chapter that a thinklet constitutes the smallest unit of intellectual capital required to create one repeatable, predictable pattern of collaboration among people working toward a goal [Briggs et al 2003].  As a result, there are a large number of thinklets and for the purposes of this chapter, thinklets related to ideation.  Before we begin the discussion some of these in detail, it is important to note a few things.


First, there is no thinklet for every situation.  Each exercise is built to fit a particular scenario or elicit a specific response that the moderator or leader is attempting to achieve.  This means that having a wide range of thinklets at your disposal is critical to achieving the appropriate collaborative atmosphere required to accomplish the goal.  Second, as a result of the above, each thinklet could have pitfalls or negative outcomes if used in the wrong scenario or with the wrong intention.  A thinklet built for ideation or divergent processes, as will be discussed in this chapter, will be a poor choice for an exercise of choosing a solution.  For the reasons above, we will be delving into these areas of the thinklets we discuss to appropriately qualify the situational aspect of using these patterns.


Change of Perspective

In order for us to fully delve into ideation thinklets, we must first consider creative work as a whole.  Search for Ideas in Associative Memory (SIAM) is a cognitive model which assumes that humans have two memory systems, the long-term memory (LTM) and the working memory (WM) [Nijstad and Stroebe 2006].  The LTM is assumed to be the storage area, which is permanent and has unlimited capacity for previous acquired knowledge[Nijstad and Stroebe 2006]. This knowledge is stored into a complicated network with numerous levels, categories and association and is partitioned into images.  Images are knowledge structures that group together items of the knowledge according to different principles such as the similarity or typicality of the items[Nijstad and Stroebe 2006].  For example, the items bed, shower, kitchen, sleep, and food may be grouped together into the image called home.


As a result, in order to spur true creativity, external stimuli can be used as an intervention to lead individuals to different areas of their knowledge networks.  This can instill a new perspective, which allows the individual to combine items of images that are typically unrelated.  Therefore, the generated ideas will cover larger areas of the possible solution space [Werner Knoll and Horton 2006].  This intervention or external stimuli results in the cognitive process called a change of perspective (CoP)[Werner Knoll and Horton 2006].  Again, this allows the individual to, what many refer to as, think outside the box.


Methods to drive a change of perspective:

Analogies has a person search for similar situations and use the knowledge about these situations to generate ideas for the creative task[Werner Knoll and Horton 2006]. To find a similar situation, the individual uses images of the given creative task and selects characteristic items[Werner Knoll and Horton 2006].  


Provocation challenges the assumptions of the creative task to generate a new perspective on the creative task[Werner Knoll and Horton 2006].  This helps the individual make links between images that are typically unrelated and think in a more creative fashion.  This also allows them to overcome occupational blindness related to tasks that they are familiar with performing.  


Random changes the perspective with external stimuli which are unrelated to the creative task[Werner Knoll and Horton 2006]. To generate new ideas, the individual combines knowledge about a random element with the items of the creative task [Werner Knoll and Horton 2006]. 


As a whole, change of perspective is a powerful tool to elicit creativity.  It does not tie to a specific thinklet but rather to ideation in the large.  As a result, you will need to consider this mechanism to get better results from ideation-focused exercises.


Verbal Ideation or Brainstorming

The most common thinklet used for ideation is Brainstorming.  Brainstorming is a group creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for a solution of a problem.  Alex Faickney Osborn popularized this method in his book called Applied Imagination where he proposed that groups could double their creative output with brainstorming [Osborn 1979].  Although research on this has proven otherwise, it is very widely used and many other ideation thinklets stem from this concept, so we will go into sufficient detail on the setup and process of brainstorming.


There are four basic ground rules to brainstorming [Osborn 1979].  First, focus on quantity.  This rule aims at facilitating the maximum amount of ideas with the assumption that quantity breeds quality.  The basic premise is that the chance of producing a unique and effective solution is significantly increased with the number of ideas generated.  Second, withhold criticism.  The focus of this is to ensure that the validity or viability of an idea is not discussed during this exercise.  Instead, individuals are encouraged to withhold judgment and focus on extending or adding to ideas.  As a result, participants do not feel reserved from generating unique comments.  Third, welcome unusual ideas.  This ties into the last point of suspending assumptions and allows for new ways of thinking.  This also reinforces the focus on quantity, which is increased by welcoming unusual ideas.  Lastly, combine and improve ideas.  This uses the process of association to combine good ideas into a single better solution.


Now we are ready for the method and process of brainstorming.  The first step is to set the problem.  This is the most important step, which entails the definition of the problem you will have individuals ideating to solve.  The problem cannot be too large and must have a clear and concise end goal.  Usually, the moderator will put this in the form of a question, such as what feature does our product not provide but is needed? 


Next, select the participants.  This group should be a good mix of individuals that are core to the project and those that have project neutrality.  This will allow for more unique idea creation and also bodes well for change of perspective.  There also should be a recorder of these ideas.  This can be the moderator or another third party if the moderator needs to focus on continued flow and generation reinforcement. 


During the session, the facilitator leads the exercise and ensures that the ground rules are being followed.  These typically begin with the leader presenting the problem and any further explanation if needed and asks the group to begin creating ideas.  The idea collector records these as they arrive and insures the recorded verbiage is accurate to depict the idea of the individual.  Next, the ideas are categorized and the list is reviewed to ensure that all participants are satisfied with the outcome and to remove any duplicative or infeasible entries.  The process is depicted on the next page in Figure 1. 


Figure 1

A large part of brainstorming is not just in the generation of ideas but also the evaluation step.  We will not focus on this here, as this step is really the utilization of thinklets geared to reduce quantity and weed out for quality (convergence).  However, it is worth mentioning that this in reality is the final stage of brainstorming and without this, the ideas created have no value. 


There are many variations to brainstorming.  Some of these warrant a closer look and will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter.  However, for the purposes of this section, nominal group technique and group passing technique are worth noting.  Nominal group technique is really a process of leveling the playing field for participants.  This is achieved by having individuals write down their ideas and submit them anonymously to the collector.  Again, this allows for more flexibility and openness with idea creativity.  This technique can also be used to rank ideas based on anonymous voting.  The group passing technique is a method by which ideas can take new shape and be more thoroughly explored.  This process involves individuals writing an idea down, passing it to the next individual and adding to the idea that they receive.  This technique may not elicit the highest amount of unique ideas, but it sets in motion creative idea exploration without the need for organizing or ranking first.


There are two concerns in regards to verbal brainstorming that need to be discussed.  One is to consider the time/space limitations of verbal ideation. Based on the requirement of having instant idea compilation and sorting, this pattern is only geared for same time-same place or same time-different place scenarios.  What this means is that individuals are present live in the process.  While phone technology has allowed for this to be feasible, it poses a large limitation with the growing global collaboration needs.  As a result, you will need to be cognizant of the individual’s availability to be present during this exercise.


Second is the discussion we alluded to earlier in regards to brainstorming research.  While the belief was that brainstorming develops a larger amount of ideas based on the four rules that Osborn lays out, brainstorming studies compiled by Stein [1974] puts forth a common finding that individuals produce an equal or fewer number of ideas when participating in verbally interactive groups than they do when working independently [Santanen 2005].  In fact, further research has shown that as groups grow larger, the creative ideation by individual group members falls off [Thornburg 1991].  Furthermore, it was found that nominal groups continuously outperformed verbally interacting groups in overall idea generation and quality.  All these are due primarily to the pitfalls discussed earlier in this chapter in regards to free riding, production blocking and evaluation apprehension.


Electronic and Directed Brainstorming

We will begin our discussion with electronic brainstorming, a computerized mechanism for ideation.  This is sometimes also referred to as brainwriting.  It can be in the form of email, peer to peer software, or perhaps browser based.  The general concept is that the moderator poses the problem to individuals electronically and group members contribute independently by sending their ideas back.  The four guidelines of Osborn’s technique and the overall brainstorming method continue to hold true in this pattern.


This type of brainstorming addresses the concerns over traditional verbal ideation.  First, now that individuals can work on creating ideas outside of a live conversation, the boundaries of when and where this exercise takes place have been removed.  This allows for more global teams to continue generating idea processes without the restraint of individual time and space.  Second, this really becomes a nominal group technique.  Things such as evaluation apprehension and free riding are no longer a concern.  This has been proven in many studies to generate a much higher quantity and quality idea pool.  Lastly, one last factor that this eliminates is that of cognitive inertia (or cognitive uniformity) [Lamm and Trommsdorff 1973]. This factor states that task relevant ideas expressed by the group members may be more similar to one another than if each member had not been exposed to the ideas of the others as they worked[Lamm and Trommsdorff 1973]. Additionally, there may be motivational pressure toward group uniformity in verbally interactive groups, since interpersonal agreement is more psychologically comfortable than disagreement[Lamm and Trommsdorff 1973].  For these reasons, electronic brainstorming is becoming the preferred method of ideation over verbal brainstorming.


Directed brainstorming is a type of electronic brainstorming where the leader directs the group with stimuli and problem statements through a series of time controlled exercises.  This usually requires a special type of software but its only drawback is again, the necessity for individuals participating live.  However, it continues to keep ideas anonymous and is really geared for fast idea generation with continued moderator support for getting individuals out of creativity ruts.  This method works on the premise of the facilitator consistently providing predetermined prompts with the intent of directing the problem solving efforts of the participants[Santanen 2005]. Directed brainstorming can also be used after an initial brainstorming session to narrow down the list of ideas and purposefully restrain the ideation process.


With that, we will now switch gears to numerous different thinklets.  You will notice that many of them utilize the methods of brainstorming discussed above.  Also, this list is by no means exhaustive and will be focused on divergent ideation patterns.



OnePage [Briggs and Vreede 2001] is a pattern geared for smaller ideation groups.  It’s ideal size is no larger than 5 individuals and it is best utilized when the topic is already narrow and the expected amount of ideas will be small. 


The premise is that all group members work off of the same page or idea chart and add ideas, in response to one question, simultaneously to this page.  Most likely this is done through computerized collaboration tools but can be done on a white board that all team members can access in parallel.  It gets its value similarly to electronic brainstorming but works best for smaller groups or fewer ideas as it gives the sense of liveliness and accomplishment to the participants. 


This pattern should be avoided in several scenarios.  First, in large groups, this could lead to information overload making ideas hard to manage and sort.  Also, this does not work well for groups that are tasked with multiple problems or questions.  Lastly, for some of the reasons above, any question that is expected to generate a large amount of ideas should be avoided for this pattern.



LeafHopper [Briggs and Vreede 2001] is ideal for situations where participants will be asked to brainstorm on several topics.  It accounts for different interest levels of participants and is not concerned with equal input from each participant to each question.


The setup is relatively straightforward and once again typically hinges on an electronic program to hold topics and ideas.  The moderator inputs all the topics and directs participants to hop around and add ideas and input as they see fit amongst the topic.  This all happens simultaneously and allows for individuals to follow their interest or expertise when contributing comments.  Once again, this works well for groups that need to ideate on multiple topics relatively simultaneously.  If there is a need for all participants to address all issues to some level or equally, this pattern should be avoided.



DealersChoice[Briggs and Vreede 2001] pattern is made for addressing multiple topics but with some individual restraint.  It requires that all or particular individuals address particular topics and the order of topics presented can matter.


Using electronic tools, the facilitator assigns certain individuals to certain topics.  The facilitator is responsible for moving participants from topic to topic once he/she is satisfied with the comment output.   Again, participants are working simultaneously but in a topic directed fashion.  There are a couple more wrinkles to this that can change the effect of this pattern.  First, the facilitator can hop the entire group around from topic to topic.  This way everyone is contributing to the same question at any given time.  With this, the facilitator can choose to only pop in topics to the group once satisfied with the previous input.  This keeps the group moving and also creates new stimuli as creativity exhausts.  Secondly, the facilitator can get agreement that individuals will work on all topics to some extent.  This could work in smaller groups but as the group grows, so does the difficulty of getting this commitment. 


DealersChoice should be avoided if the order in which topics are addressed is not important.  It also can have limited value if there are individuals that have no expertise or interest in multiple topics.  Forcing their hand may be detrimental to the ideation process and produces poor quality ideas.



To wrap this up, we will discuss this pattern as it can be used as an add-on to other divergent processes listed above.  The main premise of OneMinuteMadness[Briggs and Vreede 2001] is a checks-and-balances approach to brainstorming, specifically in an electronic fashion.  Its purpose is to consistently have the facilitator intervene and do a quick evaluation of the currently submitted comments to ensure that the participants are not flowing too far from focus.


The overall flow of this takes form of a standard electronic brainstorming session with the caveat that in certain time intervals, the entire group will stop and the facilitator will review the current list of ideas.  At this point, if comments are starting to stray from the focus area, the facilitator can eliminate these and instruct the individuals again on the area that needs more attention.  Once this is completed, the facilitator opens the gates for more ideas.  This process continues in this circular mechanism until the facilitator is content with the quantity and quality of the ideas generated.


This process should be avoided if the group will need to spend an extended amount of time really developing ideas.  It’s meant to be a quick method for stirring ideation and is true to its name.  It allows individuals to go mad for an allotted amount of time prior to being cut off and brought back down to earth.


Obstacles to Ideation and How to Overcome Them


Production Blocking

Production blocking occurs when an individual is not given the opportunity to articulate an idea to the group immediately after generating the idea.   Recent studies have shown that when an individual is prohibited from expressing their ideas immediately there is a negative impact on the group ideation process [Nijstad et al. 2003]. Sometimes, group rules mandate participants wait their turn to articulate ideas and suggestions. This is an example of production blocking.   This type of production blocking can adversely affect idea generation performance - waiting to articulate an idea can result in people forgetting their idea; also hearing another group member's idea could make the individual feel their original idea is irrelevant.  Any of the previous scenarios could prevent the original idea from being shared with the group.


Also, when ideas are articulated in a group, cultural norms may dictate that an individual should share only one idea when it is their turn[Nijstad et al. 2003]. To identify potential production blocking scenarios in ideation sessions, carefully examine the process of how a group member will generate ideas and the subsequent articulation of the idea to the group.  Any interruption in this process will likely be categorized as production blocking and can have a significant negative impact on the idea generation process.


To minimize the negative impact of production blocking during the group ideation process, techniques utilizing modern technology as well as simply a pad and paper have been created.  Both technology and paper-based solutions have one thing in common: the elimination of verbal communication during the idea generation process.  A fundamental problem with verbal communication in the ideation process is that only one person can talk at a time.  While one person is talking the rest of the group must wait for that person to finish, thereby instigating production blocking.  


Research has shown that by using "brainwriting" techniques, the negative impact of production blocking can be minimized [Paulus and Yang 2000].  In the "brainwriting" technique used by Paulus and Yang, groups of four were created and given the following rules: each member of the group was given several slips of paper to write on; each individual would write an idea down and pass the paper to the right; and finally, upon receiving a slip of paper, each individual was to read the ideas on the paper, add their own idea and pass it on [Paulus and Yang 2000]. During this process individuals were instructed not to communicate verbally. Such techniques allow individuals to generate and articulate ideas without interruption and with minimal materials.


Technology has also played a role in creating techniques that help diminish the negative impact of production blocking within the group ideation process.  Research has shown that by using electronic brainstorming techniques the negative effects of production blocking can be minimized [Dennis et al. 1993].  In electronic brainstorming, group members have their own computer and can record ideas by typing them into the application.  All ideas are recorded anonymously and each group member can see the ideas generated by the entire group, including their own. Production blocking is hence minimized as individuals can immediately record their idea as soon as it is generated.


The examples given in this section of production blocking and techniques to overcome production blocking are not meant to be comprehensive; it is reasonable to assume that in ideation sessions many other scenarios of production blocking will occur.  The goal is to be able to identify when production blocking is occurring and create a clever way to minimize the effects.  Identifying production blocking will likely be the responsibility of the ideation session leader but the session leader should keep in mind that it may be beneficial to involve other group members in creating methods to overcome production blocking.  Merely recognizing that production blocking is occurring can be the key to significantly increasing the effectiveness of an ideation session.  Methods to overcome production blocking are much easier to discover once production blocking has been identified.


Evaluation Apprehension

The Evaluation Apprehension Theory was proposed by N.B. Cottrell in 1972. According to Cottrell, our performance in social and other activities involving a group setting is directly affected by the perception that we receive social rewards and reprimands based on our peers’ evaluation of us. Evaluation apprehension occurs when people working in a group environment restrict their performances or full potential of their contribution out of concern or fear of what their peers will think of them and their ideas [Cottrell 1972]. This is one of the major obstacles of brainstorming processes and can seriously hinder the flow of idea and creativity generation.


Brainstorming facilitators should be fully aware of evaluation apprehension and can do several things to alleviate the pressure participating members of a group may feel. Creating an atmosphere of acceptance and encouraging a free flow of ideas is critical [Lloyd 2008]. Participants should feel comfortable sharing any idea they may have, regardless of its relevance. It is also important for the facilitator and veteran participants to be mindful of novice ideas. Elaborating on such input and perhaps deriving a more feasible solution from that particular idea will help newcomers feel like they are making effective contributions [Lloyd 2008].


Another issue brainstorming facilitators contain is monopolized conversation and input from more experienced participants. Brainstorming is intended to be a group exercise, with all members having equal opportunity of providing input. One dominant participant can intimidate others and prevent collaborated discussion, which limits ideation output and defeats the whole purpose of brainstorming. The participants should be able to feed off each others’ ideas to generate more solutions, which is difficult to do when one person is constantly controlling the direction and flow of the ideation process [Lloyd 2008].


One suggestion for removing potential evaluation apprehension in a brainstorming session is conducting online brainstorming and collecting ideas before the meeting [Lloyd 2008]. This will lessen and possibly obliterate any potential evaluation apprehension members of the group, especially novices, may have. This will also make the atmosphere more open and even the playing ground for the actual brainstorming meeting.


These are some suggestions to help alleviate evaluation apprehension and produce free flowing ideas and strong brainstorming and ideation sessions.


Free Riding

Free riding in group work occurs when one or several members of a group contribute so little to a group project that if the same grade is given to all members of the group, the grade would be misleading and unfair [Börjesson 2006].  Psychological mechanisms are discussed as reasons for free riding in groups [Börjesson 2006].

Roles are established by group members.  The roles which group members assign themselves and others are done so mostly unconsciously according to the members’ “social map,” which provides a feeling of orientation and safety [Börjesson 2006].


Examples of these roles are: the member who is very active and dominating and monopolizes the attention of the group; the ambitious member who is very diligent, likes to steer the conversation and gives protection to those sharing his opinions; the victim, who lets others do the work, because he feels they know and are able to do much more than him; the punching bag, who personalizes conflicts more than others and makes a complex conflict clearer and releases the others of responsibility[Börjesson, 2006]. The idea of roles shows a different perspective of how and why a person would be more likely to free ride in a group project.


Another reason for free riding in brainstorming groups can be derived from the economic theory of public goods. According to this theory, the temptation to free ride varies with group size not only because increases in size lower the identifiability of individual contributions, but also because they decrease the perceived effectiveness of individual contributions [Diehl et al. 1965; Stroebe and Frey 1982; Bouchard 1972; Diehl and Stroebe 1987]. Perceived effectiveness refers to members' perception of the difference it would make to the group or to themselves if they decided to contribute.  In large groups, not all individual contributions are typically required for the product; consequently, members may feel that their particular contribution is dispensable[Diehl et al. 1965; Stroebe and Frey 1982; Bouchard 1972; Diehl and Stroebe 1987].  In keeping with the ideas of roles, in large groups the more dominant members may have such an overwhelming input of ideas that less confident members may refrain from expressing their own for fear of having their idea dismissed.


To reduce free riding in group brainstorming projects, it is critical to ensure that each group member has an opportunity to contribute his or her ideas. One way of doing this is having participants contribute ideas in a fixed sequence; a “pass” can be announced if participants have no new ideas upon their turn [Diehl et al. 1965; Stroebe and Frey 1982; Bouchard 1972; Diehl and Stroebe 1987]. By giving each participant a turn, productivity can be significantly increased and the temptation for group members to free ride can be avoided. Another method to reduce free riding is valuing every proposed idea.  Group members can become alienated if they feel their idea is perceived as inferior by their peers. Even if the idea is not strong, it should be addressed with sensitivity so future input and potentially successful ideas are not discouraged.


The Knickrehm Method is also a good way to avoid free riding. This method suggests that the professor grade the group project and use group evaluations as an additional factor in awarding points to each member of a group. Each member of a group is asked to evaluate every other member (excluding themselves), distributing a set of number of points among the other group members respective to their performance. Of course, these evaluations remain confidential and are seen only by the professor [Maranto 1989].       


In summation, free riding is a concept that may reflect in a group project for some very distinct reasons.  Group size creates an element for a group member to receive credit from the efforts of the remaining group members.  Lack of confidence in a group member may produce inadvertent free riding.  If a group member takes a submissive role he/she may not contribute as much as the rest of the group.


The ideas for remedying free riding seem quite unanimous.  It is suggested to make sure every group member understands the project and the results to be achieved.  Also make sure that every group member has an equal opportunity to contribute ideas to the project and establish a peer grading system, which will ensure that each member works for their grade under the idea that the remaining group members will determine their grade beyond the project.



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Comments (12)

jeneesaunders@... said

at 6:23 pm on Jul 13, 2010

After reading I found this chapter to be extremely hard to read. Many times I had to pause and rewind to comprehend concepts. This Chapter has some great information, just needs to be better explained. I also believe that its like this throughout the book because we don have a specific audience we have decided to cater to. Everyone seems to be targeting different people in their writing. Once we have a clear audience we all decide on and a little more clarity on concepts, this chapter will be excellent as well as others.

Laura Pertea said

at 1:18 am on Jun 21, 2010

I found this chapter very useful and was able to make some cognitive associations based on the dynamics of the group discussions as subordinates relate to managers when generating ideas, and how conversation happens between introverts and extroverts during a brainstorming session. Also, I agree that once a problem is identified, it has to be prioritized to achieve a certain endresult, otherwise it never gets addressed. The tables and the graphs are a nice visual touch to this long chapter. However, I found myself reading it twice to comprehend and remember pertinent aspects of the material. I would like to see additional details on the relationship between creativity and innovation and how innovation is the result of team activity. Overall, I liked this chapter even though it was difficult to parse and there are some areas where better transitions are needed (e.g. reference to the Myer Briggs test), I found it very useful.

Jerry said

at 9:11 pm on Jun 20, 2010

This has a good foundation of psychological studies, however, it lacks the technical information that I would expect in a book geared toward PM 440. Examples are missing from this chapter that would also provide clarity to concepts that are introduced.

William Douglas said

at 9:21 pm on Jun 17, 2010

I find this difficult to follow, much like Chapters 1-3. As a whole, I think the book needs to be leveled towards a single audience (CDM Grad Students). I find that the technical chapters pull me in better than the chapters about techniques. Not sure if I speak for the majority....

maso0137@... said

at 8:17 pm on Jun 6, 2010

This is the Final Version of the Chapter in proper HTML Format.

maso0137@... said

at 11:08 pm on Jun 1, 2010

So here is the updated version of the paper so far taking into account comments posted on the wiki. I have updated the citations both in the text and in their format to the ACM style that we have agreed on. Jeeri and I will be putting the final touches on this on thursday and putting it into html format so it loads correctly on the site. Thanks.

Clifton Dillman said

at 11:47 am on May 26, 2010

Within the Problem Identification & Construction paragraphs there are a few run-on sentences, and a few sentences that serve no purpose (for example, The model is based on three elements. The three elements are …) which made the reading a little difficult.
The Roles within Groups section has every other paragraph indented, which is just a grammar error, but I thought that I’d point it out. Indenting paragraphs also occurs ½ way through Information Sharing within a Team.
In Potential Process Gains and Losses and Process Gains and Losses, both paragraphs refer to a figure, but I do not see a figure in between the 2 paragraphs which confused me a little.
The Implementation planning section appears 3 times with 2 separate sections. These should be joined I think. Electronic and Directed Brainstorming also appears twice, once towards the middle of the chapter, and again at the end – I think that they should be closer together in the reading.

Clifton Dillman

jennifer.canady@... said

at 7:48 pm on May 24, 2010

This chapter is very dense!
1. Spacing and organization will help make it more readable.
2. Include an introductory paragraph to allow the reader to get familiar with the topic. The first sentence is confusing if you have no context! Perhaps define "problem", "construct" and "ideation".
3. "Roles Within Groups of managers and their subordinates and the effect on Problem Identification and Construction" is a very confusing header. How about, "Organizational Roles and their effect on Problem Identification and Construction"?
4. It seems like the whole chapter focuses on problem solving... and not really on ideation, which is the chapter name. Can you give a step-by-step guide to ideation? Or, can you focus more on the ideation thinklets?
5. Your chapter doesn't have a conclusion. I imagine you're going to include one in the final draft, but writing a conclusion to sum up the points you are trying to make might actually help you to realize what parts are the most important and help you to organize the entire chapter.


at 6:47 pm on May 24, 2010

Wow! This chapter is really packed with great information! Nice work.

General comments:
+ There are some general readability and formatting issues.
+ I think you can use bullet points to pull out some of the info. -- for example in the PPM Process section "[...] five phase approach; Problem Exploration, Knowledge Exploration, Priority development, Program Development and Program Evaluation. "

Specific comments:
Problem Identification & Construction
+ I found the topic of this section a little confusing... it seems like this is a 2 step process, first to identify the problem and then to construct it. To me that seems a little counter-intuitive. If you have identified a problem, why do you need to construct it?

Problem Solving Techniques
+ The bullet lists of techniques is great - but there's nothing to tell me what the techniques entail. Just a short sentence would help me understand
+ Table 1: The acronym MBTI is never introduced, and the table isn't referenced anywhere in the document. Maybe move the table up into the "Personality Types and Problem Solving" section?

Implementation Planning
+ The voice of the document changes significantly in this section -- it's much less formal.

Erik Wallin said

at 3:15 pm on May 24, 2010

In general, formatting/spacing problems make this a difficult chapter to read. Readers need white space.

Five phase approach in PPM Process could benefit from bullet points with a brief description of each phase. It would be nice to have a brief description of the problem-solving techniques in the Problem Solving Techniques section. I recommend including the explanations for the seven-step process for developing an Implementation Plan with the numbered step rather than having a list of steps followed by the explanation.

Chapter contains a great deal of dense information. I don't know if there is a way to organize and present this wealth of information in more digestible chunks.

maso0137@... said

at 2:27 pm on May 24, 2010

Sorry, I thought I added it, but it was in our group folder. Here it is.

John Wolfram said

at 11:04 pm on May 23, 2010

Nothing to review.

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