Noah actually got 2nd place with his Blair Witch Multi-Genre Project in the ThunderBoo contest last semester. You can see his project HERE! (You’ll have to scroll down a little bit and click each genre one-by-one.)
[The article begins talking about Alex Osborn’s 1940 book Your Creative Power]…The book outlined the essential rules of a successful brainstorming session. The most important of these, Osborn said—the thing that distinguishes brainstorming from other types of group activity—was the absence of criticism and negative feedback. If people were worried that their ideas might be ridiculed by the group, the process would fail. “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it in the bud,” he wrote. “Forget quality; aim now to get a quantity of answers. When you’re through, your sheet of paper may be so full of ridiculous nonsense that you’ll be disgusted. Never mind. You’re loosening up your unfettered imagination—making your mind deliver.” Brainstorming enshrined a no-judgments approach to holding a meeting.
Brainstorming was an immediate hit and Osborn became an influential business guru, writing such best-sellers as “Wake Up Your Mind” and “The Gold Mine Between Your Ears.” Brainstorming provided companies with an easy way to structure their group interactions, and it became the most widely used creativity technique in the world. It is still popular in advertising offices and design firms, classrooms and boardrooms. “Your Creative Power” has even inspired academic institutes, such as the International Center for Studies in Creativity, at Buffalo State College, near where Osborn lived. And it has given rise to detailed pedagogical doctrines, such as the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process, which is frequently employed by business consultants. When people want to extract the best ideas from a group, they still obey Osborn’s cardinal rule, censoring criticism and encouraging the most “freewheeling” associations. At the design firm ideo, famous for developing the first Apple mouse, brainstorming is “practically a religion,” according to the company’s general manager. Employees are instructed to “defer judgment” and “go for quantity.
The underlying assumption of brainstorming is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they’ll end up saying nothing at all. The appeal of this idea is obvious: it’s always nice to be saturated in positive feedback. Typically, participants leave a brainstorming session proud of their contribution. The whiteboard has been filled with free associations. Brainstorming seems like an ideal technique, a feel-good way to boost productivity. But there is a problem with brainstorming. It doesn’t work. [Emphasis added.]
The first empirical test of Osborn’s brainstorming technique was performed at Yale University, in 1958. Forty-eight male undergraduates were divided into twelve groups and given a series of creative puzzles. The groups were instructed to follow Osborn’s guidelines. As a control sample, the scientists gave the same puzzles to forty-eight students working by themselves. The results were a sobering refutation of Osborn. The solo students came up with roughly twice as many solutions as the brainstorming groups, and a panel of judges deemed their solutions more “feasible” and “effective.” Brainstorming didn’t unleash the potential of the group, but rather made each individual less creative. Although the findings did nothing to hurt brainstorming’s popularity, numerous follow-up studies have come to the same conclusion. Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, has summarized the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.” …
…In 2003, Charlan Nemeth, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, divided two hundred and sixty-five female undergraduates into teams of five. She gave all the teams the same problem—“How can traffic congestion be reduced in the San Francisco Bay Area?”—and assigned each team one of three conditions. The first set of teams got the standard brainstorming spiel, including the no-criticism ground rules. Other teams—assigned what Nemeth called the “debate” condition—were told, “Most research and advice suggest that the best way to come up with good solutions is to come up with many solutions. Freewheeling is welcome; don’t be afraid to say anything that comes to mind. However, in addition, most studies suggest that you should debate and even criticize each other’s ideas.” The rest received no further instructions, leaving them free to collaborate however they wanted. All the teams had twenty minutes to come up with as many good solutions as possible.
The results were telling. The brainstorming groups slightly outperformed the groups given no instructions, but teams given the debate condition were the most creative by far. On average, they generated nearly twenty per cent more ideas. And, after the teams disbanded, another interesting result became apparent. Researchers asked each subject individually if she had any more ideas about traffic. The brainstormers and the people given no guidelines produced an average of three additional ideas; the debaters produced seven.
Nemeth’s studies suggest that the ineffectiveness of brainstorming stems from the very thing that Osborn thought was most important. As Nemeth puts it, “While the instruction ‘Do not criticize’ is often cited as the important instruction in brainstorming, this appears to be a counterproductive strategy. Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.” Osborn thought that imagination is inhibited by the merest hint of criticism, but Nemeth’s work and a number of other studies have demonstrated that it can thrive on conflict.
According to Nemeth, dissent stimulates new ideas because it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints. “There’s this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says. “Well, that’s just wrong. Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive. True creativity requires some trade-offs.” …
…Even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them still expands our creative potential. In a way, the power of dissent is the power of surprise. After hearing someone shout out an errant answer, we work to understand it, which causes us to reassess our initial assumptions and try out new perspectives. “Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it’s always invigorating,” Nemeth says. “It wakes us right up.”
Answer these questions in your starter:
1. Why doesn’t traditional brainstorming work?
2. What positive things can debate/criticism bring to a group dynamic?
3. What positive things from the article can you bring to this class? What steps might you take to enhancing the creativity/thoughtfulness of this class?
Have you ever thought about speaking up in a meeting and then decided against it because you did not want to appear unsupportive of the group’s efforts? Or led a team in which the team members were reluctant to express their own opinions? If so, you have probably been a victim of “Groupthink”.
Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people’s common sense desire to present alternatives, critique a position, or express an unpopular opinion. Here, the desire for group cohesion effectively drives out good decision-making and problem solving.
Two well-known examples of Groupthink in action are the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and the Bay of Pigs invasion. Engineers of the space shuttle knew about some faulty parts months before takeoff, but they did not want negative press so they pushed ahead with the launch anyway. With the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy made a decision and the people around him supported it despite their own concerns.
The term “Groupthink” was coined by Irving Janis in 1972 when he was researching why a team reaches an excellent decision one time, and a disastrous one the next. What he found was that a lack of conflict or opposing viewpoints led to poor decisions, because alternatives were not fully analyzed, and because groups did not gather enough information to make an informed decision.
How to Spot Groupthink
Janis suggested that Groupthink happens when there is:
- A strong, persuasive group leader.
- A high level of group cohesion.
- Intense pressure from the outside to make a good decision.
In fact, it is now widely recognized that Groupthink-like behavior is found in many situations and across many types of groups and team settings. So it’s important to look out for the key symptoms.
Symptoms of Groupthink
This is when team members convince themselves that despite evidence to the contrary, the decision or alternative being presented is the best one.
“Those other people don’t agree with us because they haven’t researched the problem as extensively as we have.”
When a team member expresses an opposing opinion or questions the rationale behind a decision, the rest of the team members work together to pressure or penalize that person into compliance.
“Well if you really feel that we’re making a mistake you can always leave the team.”
After a few successes, the group begins to feel like any decision they make is the right one because there is no disagreement from any source.
“Our track record speaks for itself. We are unstoppable!”
Moral High Ground:
Each member of the group views him or herself as moral: The combination of moral minds is therefore thought not to be likely to make a poor or immoral decision. When morality is used as a basis for decision-making, the pressure to conform is even greater because no individual wants to be perceived as immoral.
“We all know what is right and wrong, and this is definitely right.”
As the group becomes more uniform in their views, they begin to see outsiders as possessing a different and inferior set of morals and characteristics from themselves. These perceived negative characteristics are then used to discredit the opposition.
“Lawyers will find any excuse to argue, even when the facts are clearly against them.”
Members censor their opinions in order to conform.
“If everyone else agrees then my thoughts to the contrary must be wrong.”
Information that is gathered is censored so that it also conforms to, or supports the chosen decision or alternative.
“Don’t listen to that nonsense, they don’t have a clue about what is really going on.”
Illusion of Unanimity:
Because no one speaks out, everyone in the group feels the group’s decision is unanimous. This is what feeds the Groupthink and causes it to spiral out of control.
“I see we all agree so it’s decided then.”
How to Avoid Groupthink
The challenge for any team or group leader is to create a working environment in which Groupthink is unlikely to happen. It is important also to understand the risks of Groupthink – if the stakes are high, you need to make a real effort to ensure that you’re making good decisions.
To avoid Groupthink, it is important to have a process in place for checking the fundamental assumptions behind important decisions, for validating the decision-making process, and for evaluating the risks involved. For significant decisions, make sure your team does the following in their decision-making process:
- Explores objectives.
- Explores alternatives.
- Encourages ideas to be challenged without reprisal.
- Examines the risks if the preferred choice is chosen.
- Tests assumptions.
- If necessary, goes back and re-examines initial alternatives that were rejected.
- Gathers relevant information from outside sources.
- Processes this information objectively.
- Has at least one contingency plan.
By using one or more of these techniques to accomplish aspects of the group’s work, you will vary the group’s ways of working, and so guard against Groupthink and help make better decisions.
(AP – IGNORE!) – Answer these questions in your starter:
1. What is groupthink and what are the negative aspects of groupthink?
2. Why might we want to avoid groupthink in this class?
3. What positive things from the article can you bring to this course? What steps might you take to avoiding groupthink in this class?
The ‘This I Believe” Project
This I Believe is an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. Some 100,000 of these essays, written by people from all walks of life, are archived here on our website, heard on public radio, chronicled through our books, and featured in weekly podcasts. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow. – excerpt from thisibelieve.org
Read through 3 ‘This I Believe’ Pieces. Answer these questions:
- Who is the author? What do you know about him/her?
- What is his/her main message? (In one sentence)
- How do they convey this message? Be specific – especially about the order that is used to convey the message. Do they start by telling an anecdote? A humorous line? A thought-provoking statement? Do they ever explicitly state in one line what their belief is or just give the essence of it throughout? Do they include personal stories? Talk broadly about humanity? Use humor? Use emotion? End with a profound statement?
”This I Believe’ Pieces for You to Read:
The Art of Being a Neighbor | A Death He Freely Accepted | Finding Freedom in Forgiveness | Work is a Blessing | How to Survive Life’s Tests | Inviting the World to Dinner | Tomorrow Will Be a Better Day | We’re All Different in Our Own Ways | Finding the Flexibility to Survive | When Ordinary People Achieve Extraordinary Things | Life is Wonderfully Ridiculous
1. Author: Kevin Kelly – from Pacifica, California – founding editor of Wired Magazine
2. His Message: He doesn’t explicitly state it, but he said that it is just as important to be generous and kind to others as to be willing to accept the kindness and generosity of others.
3. How Does He Convey the Message?: Starts with an anecdote about hitchhiking in his 20s. In a flowery way, he talks about kindness and poetically mentions what it has meant to him through his travels. Gives another relevant anecdote about camping in people’s yards and receiving more generosity than he expected. Ends with a profound idea – that the universe is benevolent, and we just have to accept all the good things life has to offer.
Chandler Boyte | Justice Coleman | Anna Dalton | Alli Davis | Elizabeth Fortenberry | Patrick Hafner | Jenny Hosek | Alexis Hruby | Clare Jaros | Kyle Kramer | Anna Krause | Evan McCusker | Giovanni Mendoza | Caroline Nebel | Mia Ngo | Lauren Niedergeses | Natasha Pierce | Hannah Ridder | Amanda Rowley | Taylor Shreve | AJ Stacy | Julia Swanson
Amitwong Acin | Elida Alaniz | Damon Barr | Anna Boothe | Ellen Budell | Emily Cernik | Kelsey Coyle | Megan Dougherty | Madeleine Elwell | Rian Floyd | Noah Hampl | AJ Jambor | Megan Knebel | Nick Korta | John Nguyen | Son Nguyen | Emily O’Gara | Karly Schneider | Nick Scholz | Breanna Sinclair | Adam Zastrow