Brainstorming is a group creativity activity designed to generate a large number of raw ideas in order to derive the solution to a problem.
1.1 Background: During the late 1930 ‘s and early 1940 ‘s, advertising director Alex Osborn developed a technique for generating new product slogans and ad campaign ideas amongst his employees. He would meet with his group around a table, outline the problem and then have them generate ideas willy-nilly. Out of the scores of ideas generated, a few would turn out to be real gems. This idea-generating activity evolved and became to know as “brainstorming” and top companies and creative individuals all around the world are still using it. In 1953 the method was well popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in a book called Applied Imagination. Osborn proposed that groups could double their creative output with brainstorming. ( Osborn A F, 1963)
1.2 Advantages: Some of the major advantages of the Brainstorming are as follows
(a) One can use it to generate superlative ideas for business or any other activity that one is involved in, either through traditional group brainstorming sessions or through solo ‘wildcatting’ brain storm sessions.
(b) Allows one to generate a large quantity of ideas in a short period of time.
(c) Aims to bypass the logical ‘censor’ mind and access the more creative parts of one’s brain.
1.3 Disadvantages of Brain Storming
Some of the disadvantages of the Brainstorming exercise are as follows:
(a) In a group, participants have to listen to others and may spend time repeating their ideas until they get sufficient attention.
(b) Advising participants to let others speak without making them feel offended or intimidated can be difficult.
(c) Participants, with the ability to express their ideas faster and more effective, gain the general attention of the group. Some form of leadership can be formed in this way within the group, which might make participants feel intimidated.
(e) On the one hand, people are not very skilled at controlling their non-verbal reactions and might influence the creativity of others with their posture, gestures or facial expressions. On the other hand, attempting to control their non-verbal behavior might inhibit their own creativity.
Numerous attempts have been made to improve brainstorming or use more effective variations of the basic technique. From these attempts to improve brainstorming, electronic brainstorming emerged out. Mainly through anonymization and parallelization of input, electronic brainstorming enforces the ground rules of effective brainstorming and thereby eliminates most of the deleterious or inhibitive effects of group work.
2. Electronic Brainstorming
In a sophisticated environment, Electronic brainstorming often employs special software that collects one’s ideas in a group and shares them with other group members to promote faster collaboration. Professor Alan Dennis and Bryan Reinicke, an Indiana University doctoral student in information systems, surveyed a group of managers and professionals enrolled in the Kelley School’s part-time MBA program in Indianapolis and asked them about how they prefer to brainstorm ideas. In that survey with a sample of 131 professionals, most did not see any qualitative benefits in using electronic brainstorming tools, including people who had used them. This finding provided the initial momentum towards yet another creative thinking. ( IU Homepages, Indiana University dated 20 Aug 2004).
3. An Innovative way of Electronic Brainstorming – A new Concept
Getting into innovative patterns of teaching and learning is an evolution. While numerous sessions of traditional brainstorming were undertaken since 2006 with different category of participants, be it defense personnel, Management students, Chartered Accountants or corporate professional, one very important issue that was observed was that of vociferousness. As brainstorming targets quantity rather than quality, the so called vociferousness is inevitable. Albeit, the situation has never been out of control, it was indeed a challenging situation at times. This provided the stimulation to think out of box and create a different pattern in the structure of traditional as well as Electronic Brainstorming. Thus evolved Electronic Brainstorming ( E-Brainstorming) with a difference. Here the technology that is implied is Grass root technology.
4. Grass root Technology
A Technology that has “low tech” and “low cost” could be possibly termed as Grassroot technology. In order to define a little bit more on the focus of Grassroots, here are some of its characteristics.
(a) All necessary materials are locally available,
(b) Only an Internet connectivity and the IP messaging system needs to be installed.
(c) People don’t need special or high tech knowledge,
(d) No or a few external resources are necessary,
(e) Users can apply and operate widely on their own,
(f) A very limited or no environmental impact is caused.
In fact, Many variations of creativity laboratories have been already experimented. Some of the prominent ones are
(a) Text messaging services like Google Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, etc.
(b) video/Web conferencing using Skype.
The primary objective was to generate creative thinking among the participants under a limited sophistication i.e unlike the actual E-Brainstorming where one makes use of specific Software and generate new ideas among the participants as indicated earlier or Brainstorming carried out on virtual basis where the participants could be net connected across locations. Ultimately generating ideas in real sense of originality without making use of worldly ideas which are easily available by a click of a button is the essence.
5. Shaping the Concept
Keeping in view the objectives such as Stimulating one’s thoughts towards specific issues, accelerating original thinking capabilities, providing opportunity for exploring creativity, avoiding vociferous situation, Inducing fun learning through effective use of Grass root technology, the innovative concept in the E-Brainstorming was framed and is a step towards achieving resource utilization and creating a benchmark in the discussion arena.
In order to give shape to the innovative concept, a pilot study of the first E- Brainstorming session was conducted for the General Management and Communication Skills ( G M C S) batch of Jan 2009 comprising of 50 practicing and potential Chartered Accountanta. And the response from this batch was phenomenal. It provided the author with the much needed fillip to proceed further. Two years down the line, the journey for the innovative E-Brainstorming activity was never ending but rather was given facelift in its facilitation based on the feedback generated. And if one start pondering on what all is that innovation in this brain stimulating but non storming session which normally goes anywhere between 90 minutes and 200 minutes, the answer is in the modus operandi that was formulated and appended below.
The first step is to create an understanding of the requirement to think differently. In order to reach this to the participants, a short exercise such as the following could be given.
Following a specific pattern, What would be the next sequence?
The above exercise has been identified to get resolved by roughly about 2% of the participants which justified the primary objective of such an innovative session.
5.2 The Instrument
The Instrument that is being used to conduct the exercise is a technique called Internet Protocol (IP) Messaging System and this system has been the driver of this E- Brainstorming exercise. Let us know What exactly is this IP Messaging system.
5.3 IP Messaging System
Many of us must be familiar with the Instant Messaging (IM) services that are provided by various Internet portals. IM services have historically been PC based although they have begun to penetrate into wireless domain. For the rationale of this article, IP messaging refers primarily the IM like services that run over Internet Protocol networks.
As the entire structure of the session is woven around the technique involving IP messaging system, the first step towards the above mentioned exercise is creating a familiarization of the IP messaging concept along with registration method to all the participants in the Lecture hall before entering in to the modalities of the exercise to be carried out in a Computer Laboratory.
5.5 Creating Unique Identity
As a part of the registration, every participant segmented into different groups is required to create an unique identity in a specific format say the group 1 team leader creates the identity Group 1 TL and the first member as Group 1 A and so on. This creation of identity is utilized towards framing the user name and group name in the registration process. By following a specific format, the entire registration process is standardized and free of Conflicts in the IP system.
5.6 Demonstration and Instructions
Once the creation of identity is completed, a demonstration of the working is carried out in order to get a feel and familiarization of the entire exercise among the participants. Specific Instructions which are appended below are passed on to the participants at this point in time.
(a) Participant member of each group will only interact with the Group Team Leader and not with any one else.
(b) The Group Team Leaders will interact with their respective member participants only and with the Moderator.
(c) No participant will turn on to internet or the information available thereon. This is a mandatory rule in order to stimulate original thoughts among the participants.
(d) Each Participant member can keep sending the original thoughts to the Team Leader and in such case the Team Leader may create an open file to save those ideas or the Participant member himself/herself may create an open file and towards the end may transfer the open file with the ideas collated to the Team Leader.
5.7 Actual Working
After the demonstration and subsequent clarifications, if any, the participants are instructed to proceed to the Computer Lab and to take position one on one with a Personal Computer. Here care needs to be taken that the group members get the position at random and do not cluster at same place. As per the instruction, each participant completes the registration and confirms readiness for the exercise.
5.8 Silent Discussion Topics
Each group is provided with TWO DIFFERENT WORDS which each participant of the group along with the Group TL requires to associate in all possible creative ways using original thinking only. They are encouraged to think out of box. Say for example CAR & BALLOON, DIGITAL & PHYSICAL WORLD etc. The time duration for the exercise is stipulated as 20 minutes and within this time duration, each group collates the ideas through its Team Leader. In the mean time the moderator also registers and moderates the exercise through his interaction with the Team Leaders only. The entire exercise takes place in absolute pin drop silence. A Silent discussion intra group. Isn’t?
At the end of the stipulated time duration all the participants sans the Team Leaders are instructed to close the PC and proceed to the Lecture hall. An additional 5 minutes is allotted to all the Team Leaders to consolidate their respective collated ideas or the documented open file into a presentable format. This document is then forwarded to the moderator ( the author ) for record and evaluation.
The moderator prepares two copies of the report submitted by the Team Leaders. One copy for the group and the other for the purpose of evaluation. Each group then takes turn to describe the ideas as generated by the member participants. In order to create a competitive environment, the description is subjected to defense and challenges and also subjected to peer evaluation. The group with highest evaluation rating is declared ultimate out of box thinkers.
Upon successful interaction and ultimate thinking, quite a few innovative and out of box thinking have emerged such as Balloon lifting the Cars during traffic congestions ( based on the two words CAR & BALLOON), An artificial refrigerated closed beach ( based on the two words REFRIGERATION & BEACH) and the exercise of E-Brainstorming using IP messaging system ( using the words DIGITAL WORLD & PHYSICAL WORLD).
The above described effort has a major limitation in the Technological front. As Internet Protocol (IP) system is completely dependent on the internal Network system, any technological failure or system break down will certainly lead to disruption and discontinuity in the E-Brainstorming exercise.
This exercise is motivated to fulfill the objectives such as Stimulating one’s thoughts towards specific issues, accelerating original thinking capabilities, providing opportunity for exploring creativity, avoiding vociferous situation which leads to the situation being uncontrollable at times, collation of quality ideas and thoughts which many a times give a slip during the traditional Brainstorming exercises and also Inducing fun learning through effective use of Grass root technology. This initiative is also a step towards achieving resource utilization and creating a benchmark in the discussion arena.
It is said that for a journey of 1000 miles commence with the first step. Let this initiative be the first step of the future prospects of such low cost and low tech method.
IU Homepages vide http://www.homepages.indiana.edu/082004/text/technology.shtml.
Osborn, A.F. (1963) Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative problem solving (3rd Ed.). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons