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Assessing Electronic Brainstorming Effectiveness in an Industrial Setting

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Human Factors

“Assessing Electronic Brainstorming Effectiveness in an Industrial Setting”

By: Courtney C. Dornburg, Susan M. Stevens, Stacey M. L. Hendrickson and George S. Davidson, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico

2009

Overview:

Companies have been relying on electronic communications to perform effective research. However, our knowledge on how to optimize electronic brainstorming is weak. We could positively affect industrial problem solving if we acquire more knowledge about group performance versus nominal performance, especially because a firm could decrease time and costs if they manage to be efficient while using nominal investigations. Thus, several research opportunities could be valuable considering the impact it can have on the companies. The popular opinion states that verbal brainstorming yields more ideas than if individuals generates ideas by themselves; working with other people allow social facilitation as well as intellectual synergy that can be generated with the exposure of other people’s ideas. Even so, recent research has brought doubts about those general assumptions, considering that many factors need to be taken into account to affirm this claim.

          Group-problem solving performance depends on how well groups generate ideas, usually through brainstorming. Yet, by using verbal brainstorming, a group might face production blocking, evaluation apprehension as well as social loafing. Those factors can inhibit the effectiveness of verbal brainstorming. Electronic communication came back as a good solution to lessen the negative effects of traditional brainstorming as well as offer potential cost savings.  Production blocking would be limited because it allows simultaneous participant input and evaluation apprehension would be reduced because responses can be anonymous. However, there are different opinions about the evolution of social loafing through electronic brainstorming (EBS). Some declare that social loafing would be reduced by viewing other people’s ideas since people are able to compare their answers. Others state that it will lead to the “matching phenomenon,” where high performers reduce and low performers increase their respective inputs. The two real disadvantages that need to be considered with EBS are the time it takes to type and the absence of verbal communication. Overall, EBS is typically superior to verbal brainstorming although the best way to leverage this superiority remains unclear. An experiment was made to compare both methods’ effectiveness within the industrial setting of a national laboratory.

The participants were volunteering; 69 Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) employees and contractors contributed to the experiment. Thirty-nine of them were assigned the nominal condition while the remaining thirty people were part of the group condition. After logging in to a specific website created by the experimenters, participants were able to view the brainstorming question. They were asked to input ideas at least once a day for four consecutive days. As the rules obliged, nominal-condition participants worked by themselves while group-condition participants worked with each other, by seeing the different answers and building their ideas on them. The answers remained anonymous, to reduce evaluation apprehension.

The ideas were recorded each day, and several types of ANOVA measures were done to evaluate the results. On Day 1, the average number of ideas generated was superior as the other days. Overall, there was no significant difference between the quantity of ideas generated by the two groups. However, the quality-of-ideas analysis led us to distinct results. Idea quality was scored according to originality, feasibility, and effectiveness. The raters were chosen specifically for their competence to allow the optimum judgment. After performing new ANOVA measures, it was possible to assert that participants in the nominal conditions had a superior amount of good ideas, and the quality of the ideas was overall better than the group conditions.

As stated earlier, the reason why the authors decided to pursue this research and write an article about it is that the results could have a consequent impact on companies. Again, little was known about how to best use electronic communication, and this article might change people’s perception of the subject; Organizations tend to think that by using group-problem solving, they would have more efficient results but some important factors were despised in that way of thinking and this article proved it. The study’s objectives were made in a clear way by the authors; the article starts by a small abstract where the authors directly mention the goal of the research.

        The presentation of this research is extremely clear and organized. At the beginning of the paper, there was a brief description of the main objective, background of the problem, methods, results and application of the investigation. Later on, the authors were able to explain this information with quantitative evidence. However, only one chart representing the number of ideas generated by members of the nominal and the group conditions was given. The way the paper could be improved is by providing more visuals in the study. In understanding results involving mathematics, one would expect to see more graphs or charts to represent the data because it always makes the results easier to interpret.

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