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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Electronic Brainstorming
  4. Brainwriting
  5. Effects of Electronic Brainstorming and Brainwriting Techniques on Performance
  6. Hypotheses
  7. Study 1
  8. Study 2
  9. General Discussion
  10. References
  11. Appendix: Appendix A
  12. Appendix: Appendix B

Two studies aimed to examine an overlooked question in brainstorming research, comparing the effects on performance and attention to the ideas of other group members of 2 idea-generation techniques based on a pooling approach: electronic brainstorming (EBS) and brainwriting (BWr). The results demonstrate that the pooling approach, which is a major feature of EBS, is more effective for EBS than for BWr, and also leads to greater perceived satisfaction with EBS (Study 1). However, if the EBS is forced into a system whereby extra effort is required to see the other participants’ ideas (Study 2), the “superiority effect” disappears. These findings suggest ways of optimizing creativity in groups from the perspective of applied social psychology.

During the last few decades, the study of creativity has grown exponentially, and creativity techniques have been the subject of research in various areas of psychology (e.g., Campbell, 1968; Smith, 1998; VanGundy, 1988). A large number of techniques have been developed to optimize creativity in different contexts (e.g., Johnson & Carruthers, 2006; Nickerson, 1999; VanGundy, 1988), and a number of them have aimed at facilitating the generation of new ideas in groups (for reviews, see Lamm & Trommsdorff, 1973; Paulus, 2000; Paulus & Brown, 2003; Stroebe & Diehl, 1994). Research on group idea generation has been widely developed in social and applied psychology and is intimately related to the development and use of a group creativity technique popularized by Osborn (1957), by the name of brainstorming. This technique is defined as a means of generating alternative ideas or solutions on a specific topic. From the outset, the goal of brainstorming has been to generate a long list of ideas, some of which will spark the imagination and facilitate the production of unique and constructive ideas.

Contrary to Osborn's (1957) proposition that group brainstorming is more likely to generate a higher number of (good) ideas than is individual brainstorming, consistent findings in the literature have demonstrated an effect of productivity loss in groups (e.g., Diehl & Stroebe, 1987, 1991; Mullen, Johnson, & Salas, 1991; Stroebe, Nijstad, & Rietzschel, 2010; Taylor, Berry, & Block, 1958). A wide range of social and cognitive processes has been considered to explain this effect (e.g., Brown, Tumeo, Larey, & Paulus 1998; Camacho & Paulus, 1995; Connolly, Routhieux, & Schneider, 1993; Diehl & Stroebe, 1987; Dugosh, Paulus, Roland, & Yang, 2000; Nijstad & Stroebe, 2006; Paulus, 2000; Paulus & Dzindolet, 1993), including evaluation apprehension (i.e., fear of being judged by others) and production blocking (i.e., group members must take turns to express their ideas). To reduce the negative impact of these processes, other techniques have been used in which participants must produce their ideas either via the computer (i.e., electronic brainstorming or EBS) or via written notes (i.e., brainwriting or BWr).

In brainstorming research, studies have essentially compared verbal or nominal techniques with EBS (e.g., Petrovic & Krickl, 1994; for reviews, see Dennis & Williams, 2005; DeRosa, Smith, & Hantula, 2007). Different EBS techniques have also been compared (e.g., Aiken, Vanjani, & Paolillo, 1996; Pissarra & Jesuino, 2005). As far as we know, EBS and BWr techniques have not been directly compared in the literature, probably because they are often considered to be interchangeable. To fill this gap, the goal of the present study is to compare the effects of EBS and BWr techniques on the generation of ideas in groups.

Electronic Brainstorming

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Electronic Brainstorming
  4. Brainwriting
  5. Effects of Electronic Brainstorming and Brainwriting Techniques on Performance
  6. Hypotheses
  7. Study 1
  8. Study 2
  9. General Discussion
  10. References
  11. Appendix: Appendix A
  12. Appendix: Appendix B

Because computers contribute to creativity, thus facilitating communication between individuals working together on creative projects (e.g., Lubart, 2005), EBS appears to be a useful technique for generating ideas in groups. It involves groups of various sizes generating ideas about a specific topic either simultaneously (e.g., Nunamaker, Dennis, Valacich, Vogel, & George, 1991; Valacich, George, Nunamaker, & Vogel, 1994) or, less often, at different times (e.g., Michinov & Primois, 2005; de Vreede, Briggs, & Reiter-Palmon, 2010). In most studies, participants are in the same room and type their ideas on a computer keyboard. Their ideas can then be visualized and re-read several times on a screen at the front of the room, or visualized via text-based synchronous communication tools (e.g., chat rooms, instant messaging, micro-blogging) on the computer screen.

It appears that one of the biggest advantages of EBS is that it reduces or eliminates the detrimental blocking effects of verbal brainstorming (e.g., Diehl & Stroebe, 1987; Gallupe, Cooper, Grise, & Bastianutti, 1994; Valacich, Dennis, & Connolly, 1994). Because no one in the group must wait for his or her turn to speak, it effectively eliminates production blocking (e.g., Gallupe et al., 1994; Paulus, Dugosh, Dzindolet, Coskun, & Putman, 2002). This positive effect increases with larger groups. Indeed, it has been found that large groups whose members share ideas through computers outperform both equivalent nominal groups whose members do not share their ideas, and groups whose members share their ideas verbally (e.g., Dennis & Valacich, 1993; Dennis & Williams, 2005; DeRosa et al., 2007; Valacich, Dennis, et al., 1994).

Brainwriting

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Electronic Brainstorming
  4. Brainwriting
  5. Effects of Electronic Brainstorming and Brainwriting Techniques on Performance
  6. Hypotheses
  7. Study 1
  8. Study 2
  9. General Discussion
  10. References
  11. Appendix: Appendix A
  12. Appendix: Appendix B

Brainwriting is another technique used to improve idea generation that can help group members overcome the loss of productivity found in verbal brainstorming. As its name suggests, this technique is characterized by silent, handwritten communication whereby ideas are written down on pieces of paper or Post-it® notes, rather than spoken aloud or typed. Brainwriting itself is a general term used to describe a wide variety of techniques (e.g., brainwriting pool, 6-3-5, Pin Cards), but all of which eliminate the verbal sharing of ideas (e.g., Geschka, 1993; Goodman, 1995; Gryskiewicz, 1988; VanGundy, 1983, 1988). For example, in the classic brainwriting pool technique in a face-to-face setting, participants silently write down their ideas on pieces of paper, which they place in the center of the table. Each group member is free to pull out one or more of these ideas to stimulate new ideas. The process stops at the end of the session. To date, very few studies have tested the benefits of brainwriting over other techniques, but some of them (essentially field studies) have found that brainwriting groups produce more ideas than do verbal brainstorming groups (e.g., Madsen & Finger, 1978; VanGundy, 1995). Moreover, when a brainwriting technique was used in which participants had the possibility of seeing the ideas written by others, they produced almost four times as many ideas as groups that did not have this possibility (VanGundy, 1993). Similarly, laboratory experiments have also demonstrated the superior performance of brainwriting groups over that of nominal groups; that is, groups whose members work in the same room, writing or typing ideas, but not exchanging them (e.g., Coskun, 2005; Paulus & Yang, 2000).

To our knowledge, examination of the literature reveals that BWr and EBS techniques have not been experimentally compared, and they are generally considered to be interchangeable by researchers. As proposed by Heslin (2009), research could usefully examine the impact of brainwriting versus brainstorming on different outcomes, such as productivity and creativity, but also satisfaction, self-efficacy, group cohesion, and so forth. However, paradoxically, the author continues to consider these techniques as similar. According to Heslin, “Brainwriting may be conducted via networked computers… commonly known as electronic brainstorming, as well as by using the range of other brainwriting procedures” (p. 140). More recently, Kohn, Paulus, and Choi (2011) argued that production blocking in idea-generation groups should be reduced if groups use electronic or written means of exchanging ideas, considering again the two techniques as interchangeable. Although similar processes are involved in typing and writing notes by hand, helping to reduce productivity loss in groups, it can also be assumed that these techniques may induce different levels of cognitive or social stimulation (e.g., Brown & Paulus, 2002; Dugosh & Paulus, 2005; Nijstad & Stroebe, 2006) and, consequently, different levels of performance.

Effects of Electronic Brainstorming and Brainwriting Techniques on Performance

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Electronic Brainstorming
  4. Brainwriting
  5. Effects of Electronic Brainstorming and Brainwriting Techniques on Performance
  6. Hypotheses
  7. Study 1
  8. Study 2
  9. General Discussion
  10. References
  11. Appendix: Appendix A
  12. Appendix: Appendix B

As pointed out previously, because of the supposed interchangeability of the techniques, very few attempts have been made to compare their respective effects on the social and cognitive processes involved in idea-generation tasks and, consequently, on performance. Although these techniques share some common processes—such as reducing evaluation apprehension, and production blocking—some differences can be highlighted. One of the main differences is the degree of exposure to the ideas produced by other group members. This exposure to other ideas has been recognized as a powerful factor influencing both cognitive stimulation and performance (e.g., Nijstad & Stroebe, 2006).

As suggested by Osborn (1957) himself, exposure to ideas produced by others allows individuals to piggyback their own ideas on someone else's. Although the evidence for cognitive stimulation in brainstorming groups is mixed (e.g., Diehl & Stroebe, 1987, 1991; Ziegler, Diehl, & Zijlstra, 2000), it has been shown that idea generation can be enhanced by exposure to ideas used as stimuli (e.g., Dugosh et al., 2000; Nijstad & Stroebe, 2006; Nijstad, Stroebe, & Lodewijkx, 2002). For example, Dugosh et al. (2000) demonstrated that simply exposing individual brainstormers to a tape containing stimulus ideas as they brainstorm increased the number of ideas generated and the number of novel ideas, but only when participants were instructed to remember the stimulus ideas. They also found this effect in EBS groups when attention to the ideas of others was increased by giving them instructions about memorization. In other words, when participants are exposed to ideas produced by other members of their group or instructed to focus their attention on these ideas in order to memorize them, they are more cognitively stimulated and perform better during the brainstorming session.

These findings suggest that at least two processes may be involved in an idea-generation task: attention and cognitive stimulation. The former requires shifting the focus of attention from one's own ideas to those of other group members, whereas the latter consists of eliciting new ideas from previous ones containing task-related stimuli. These processes are necessarily interrelated, because cognitive stimulation requires attention to the ideas of others, and attention facilitates cognitive stimulation. In their cognitive-social motivational model, Paulus and Brown (2007) emphasized the important role of attention to the ideas of others, suggesting that group idea exchange requires attention to ideas produced by others, and this attention process may produce cognitive stimulation, explaining the positive effects observed in EBS.

According to these findings, EBS should be more stimulating than BWr, and by the end of a session, participants will have seen more (if not all) of the ideas produced by other group members using the former than the latter technique. Moreover, during an EBS session, participants have control over their activity and can easily and quickly switch from typing their own ideas to reading other participants’ ideas on the screen. Consequently, individuals are continuously exposed to a flow of ideas, which they can read in their entirety or in part for cognitive stimulation. Although individuals also have control over their activity during a traditional pool BWr session, additional effort is needed to pick up and read the ideas written by other participants; and they are, therefore, likely to focus on their own ideas, without paying much attention to those produced by others. Consequently, because they do not spend time processing others’ ideas, a great number of redundant ideas are likely to be produced.

Paradoxically, very few studies in brainstorming research have considered redundant ideas as a crucial measure of attentional processes involved in an idea-generation task. The sole exception is to be found in the experiments of Ziegler et al. (2000), where groups of 2 and 4 members were compared in virtual versus nominal conditions in mixed- (Study 1) or same-gender groups (Study 2). They found that “large” virtual mixed-gender groups produced more non-redundant ideas than did other groups. They also found more redundant ideas and irrelevant utterances in 4-member virtual groups. This redundancy may be interpreted from an attentional perspective, whereby attention has been directed mostly toward non-task-related communication, rather than toward creative ideas produced by other group members.

Hypotheses

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Electronic Brainstorming
  4. Brainwriting
  5. Effects of Electronic Brainstorming and Brainwriting Techniques on Performance
  6. Hypotheses
  7. Study 1
  8. Study 2
  9. General Discussion
  10. References
  11. Appendix: Appendix A
  12. Appendix: Appendix B

Because of the easier exposure to ideas produced by other group members in electronic brainstorming than in brainwriting, the following hypotheses are proposed:

  • Hypothesis 1. More non-redundant ideas (performance) will be produced by participants using an electronic brainstorming technique than by participants using a brainwriting technique.
  • Hypothesis 2. Fewer redundant ideas (attention) will be produced by participants using an electronic brainstorming technique than by participants using a brainwriting technique.

In line with several studies (e.g., DeRosa et al., 2007), the following is also proposed:

  • Hypothesis 3. Participants will have greater satisfaction when producing their ideas using an electronic brainstorming technique than when producing ideas using a brainwriting technique.

Study 1

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Electronic Brainstorming
  4. Brainwriting
  5. Effects of Electronic Brainstorming and Brainwriting Techniques on Performance
  6. Hypotheses
  7. Study 1
  8. Study 2
  9. General Discussion
  10. References
  11. Appendix: Appendix A
  12. Appendix: Appendix B

Method

Participants

Study participants were 80 undergraduates (32 males, 48 females) in two classes studying social psychology in an Institute of Communication and Digital Technologies in France (University of Poitiers). The students participated in the experiment during a course of practical work on computer-mediated communication. Prior to the study, the students were given a questionnaire designed to assess their familiarity with computer and Internet tools and with brainstorming techniques. The data reveal that just under half of the students had their own personal computer (PC) or laptop (46%) and that a majority use computers regularly (96%). None of the students had ever taken part in a computer-mediated brainstorming or brainwriting session.

Procedure

For each class of 40 students, half were installed in a computer room, while the other half stayed in the classroom. The session lasted 30 min and was organized as follows: approximately 15 min for participants to find a computer and log on to the system (or find a place around a table) and be instructed about the idea-generation task; 10 min for generating ideas; and 5 min for completing a short questionnaire and for debriefing. In each situation, the participants were divided by alphabetical order into 10 groups of 4 members each for the two experimental conditions, with five groups in each condition (electronic brainstorming vs. brainwriting). The idea-generation task involved the possible uses and reuses of a shoebox. To increase interest in the task, the experimenter presented the topic as being socially important from the perspective of environmental sustainability, as a way of recycling waste material. All of the groups performed the idea-generation task at the same time, either in the computer room (i.e., electronic brainstorming) or in the classroom (i.e., brainwriting).

In the computer room, each participant sat in front of a PC connected to the Internet with access to the collaborative working environment equipped with a synchronous communication system or chat room. When they arrived in the computer room, participants had to log on to the “Affinitiz” collaborative work environment (http://affinitiz.net/). To do so, they had to enter a user name and password. Once they had logged on, participants could connect with the other members of their group.

For the idea-generation task, participants used the chat-room function to exchange textual messages, entering their ideas in a text field at the bottom of the window and sending them either by pressing the Enter key or by clicking on a button marked “OK” (see Appendix A). The ideas produced by each participant appeared in chronological order in a shared zone at the bottom of a window. Each idea could be identified by the user name of the participant who sent it. The number of ideas generated during an electronic brainstorming session exceeds the number that can be displayed, as the limited size of the window means that only 10 ideas can be seen at the same time. The rest of the ideas can be displayed using a scroll bar. With this system, ideas can be entered at any time, so that participants can produce their ideas simultaneously and read the ideas of the other group members at roughly the same time.

The participants were informed that they would be using computer-mediated communication to work with other students randomly assigned to a group of 4 members. All possible gender compositions occurred naturally through this randomization procedure, with a slightly higher number of female participants in each group. At the beginning of the session, the experimenter entered the brainstorming topic on an area in the collaborative work environment, together with Osborn's (1957) four brainstorming rules:

  1. Don't criticize.
  2. Focus on quantity.
  3. Combine and improve ideas produced by others.
  4. Write down any idea that comes to mind, no matter how wild.

The experimenter stayed in a corner of the computer room to ensure that participants produced their ideas silently, using only the computer. The list of ideas was automatically recorded and saved in a file for further statistical analysis.

In the classroom, participants were randomly assigned to groups of 4 members and sat around tables that were arranged in a square. Each participant was given a notepad containing slips of paper on which he or she was instructed to write his or her ideas. As in the other condition, the participants were instructed not to communicate verbally during the task, and the experimenter stayed in a corner of the room to ensure that ideas were produced silently through a paper-and-pencil procedure. To be comparable with the EBS condition, participants had to write their initials on each slip of paper before placing it on the table. Each participant could easily place his or her slips of paper in the center of the table and pick up a slip written by another participant. Once the participant had read it, he or she was instructed to place it back on the table so that it could be read by someone else.

The BWr pool technique used in the present study was chosen because it is the one that is closest to the EBS condition. Because the vast majority of EBS systems require a parallel entry of ideas, the procedure whereby slips are passed from one person to another in the group as ideas are generated was not adopted. As in the EBS condition, prior to beginning the idea-generation task, the participants were told the brainstorming topic, and Osborn's (1957) rules were written on the whiteboard. For both conditions, the idea-generation session lasted exactly 10 min. At the end of this time, the experimenter told the participants to stop generating ideas and to complete a brief questionnaire that contains additional measures.

Measures
Performance

As in most laboratory experiments, the main measure of performance was assessed by the number of non-redundant (or unique) ideas produced by participants in each group. Before counting the number of non-redundant (and redundant) ideas, any task-irrelevant comments were removed (e.g., “I'm hungry,” “I'm tired,” “Let's go and have a drink”). Less than 1% of comments were removed, solely in the EBS condition.

Attention

The attention paid by the participants to ideas produced by other group members was measured indirectly by the number of redundant ideas generated. It can be assumed that more redundant ideas will be produced when less attention is paid to the ideas of other group members. To measure this, only the first occurrence of a unique idea was counted, and all subsequent occurrences were counted and attributed to their authors as redundant ideas.

Satisfaction and evaluation apprehension

Self-report measures were included in the final questionnaire to evaluate satisfaction and evaluation apprehension among participants. Satisfaction included two items: “I am satisfied with my group's productivity” (satisfaction with the outcomes), and “I am satisfied with the work processes of my group” (satisfaction with the process; α = .70). The items were rated on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree). Evaluation apprehension was also measured with two items: “I was afraid to give my ideas in the group,” and “I was worried that my ideas would be criticized by the group” (α = .79), which were rated on the same 5-point scale.

Results

Performance and Attention

A two-sample t test was conducted at the group level to assess whether techniques, electronic brainstorming, and brainwriting had an effect on the number of non-redundant ideas produced by participants. As predicted in Hypothesis 1, the results reveal that participants produced significantly more non-redundant ideas with EBS (M = 9.72, SD = 2.33) than with BWr (M = 6.47, SD = 2.21), t(18) = 3.18, p < .005, r = .58 (see Figure 1). As predicted in Hypothesis 2, the results reveal that participants produced significantly fewer redundant ideas with EBS (M = 1.62, SD = 1.20) than with BWr (M = 3.00, SD = 0.82), t(18) = -2.90, p < .009, r = .56 (see Figure 2).

figure

Figure 1. Mean number of non-redundant ideas generated by participants in groups as a function of idea-generation technique. EBS = electronic brainstorming; BWr = brainwriting.

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figure

Figure 2. Mean number of redundant ideas generated by participants in groups as a function of idea-generation technique. EBS = electronic brainstorming; BWr = brainwriting.

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Satisfaction and Evaluation Apprehension

As predicted in Hypothesis 3, t-test analysis at the group level shows that participants were more satisfied producing their ideas with EBS (M = 2.53, SD = 0.40) than with BWr (M = 2.01, SD = 0.36), t(18) = 9.51, p < .006, r = .56. By contrast, no statistical difference was observed on evaluation apprehension using EBS (M = 2.28, SD = 0.50) or BWr (M = 2.12, SD = 0.24), t(18) = 0.84, p = .84, r = .20.

Discussion

The aim of Study 1 was to examine an overlooked issue in brainstorming research concerning the effects on performance and attention of two techniques of idea generation generally considered as interchangeable; that is, electronic brainstorming and brainwriting. With regard to this objective, as expected, it was found that idea generation and attention to ideas produced by other group members were better in the EBS than the BWr groups, the former generating more non-redundant and fewer redundant ideas, suggesting that more attention is paid to the ideas of other group members with EBS than with BWr. Similarly, although there was greater satisfaction with EBS than with BWr, no difference was observed in evaluation apprehension. The fact that ideas were given silently—either typed or handwritten—rather than verbally, may explain this lack of difference, both groups demonstrating a low level of anxiety.

The present results are consistent with previous findings suggesting that EBS boosts cognitive stimulation (e.g., Dugosh et al., 2000), which may be because of easier exposure to the ideas of other group members with this technique than with brainwriting. These results suggest that cognitive stimulation with EBS generates a great number of non-redundant ideas and focuses attention on the ideas of other group members, as indirectly demonstrated by the low level of redundancy. Overall, EBS gives participants easy access to the ideas produced by others on a computer screen, which improves performance and attention. Conversely, BWr requires a significant effort to read the other people's ideas. Because participants did not always make that effort, there was less cognitive stimulation, and performance was consequently lower.

The results of the present study differ from those of Ziegler et al. (2000) with regard to redundancy in the 4-member virtual groups. In their study, participants produced a high number of redundant ideas, which was not the case in the present study. At least two differences between these studies may explain these findings. First, participants in Ziegler et al.'s study produced a high number of irrelevant utterances, whereas non-task-related communication was minimal in the present study. Consequently, while participants in Ziegler et al.’ study essentially focused their attention on irrelevant utterances, those in the present study directed their attention toward creative and relevant ideas produced by other group members.

Second, and related to the first difference, the time allocated to the brainstorming task varied between the two studies. In Ziegler et al.'s (2000) study, two topics were given: one for 10 min, and one for 20 min. The first served as a practice trial to familiarize participants with the electronic brainstorming system; followed by the second, which was the actual brainstorming task. In the present study, only one task was used, lasting 10 min. Consequently, participants had more time to produce irrelevant utterances in Ziegler et al.'s study than in the present study, and they tended to focus their attention on off-task comments instead of on relevant and creative ideas. A recent study in an industrial setting supports this interpretation, by demonstrating that 75% of the relevant ideas produced in 30 min were expressed within the first 15 min (Howard, Dekoninck, & Culley, 2010).

Finally, because brainwriting and electronic brainstorming techniques can be carried out in many different ways, their effect on the degree of attention paid to the ideas produced by others can vary. In the electronic brainstorming technique used in the present study, ideas were automatically “pushed” to each group member; whereas in the brainwriting technique, the participants had to “pull” a slip of paper from the center of the table. This difference between “push” and “pull” strategies may have a crucial impact on the results of the present study. To ensure that participants made the same effort to read the ideas produced by others, an additional study was conducted in which participants in both conditions were not automatically exposed to the ideas produced by others, but had to decide to read an idea. Consequently, another electronic brainstorming system was used, which was very similar to the brainwriting pool technique, except that notes were placed on a Webpage instead of on a table.

Study 2

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Electronic Brainstorming
  4. Brainwriting
  5. Effects of Electronic Brainstorming and Brainwriting Techniques on Performance
  6. Hypotheses
  7. Study 1
  8. Study 2
  9. General Discussion
  10. References
  11. Appendix: Appendix A
  12. Appendix: Appendix B

Method

Participants and Procedure

Study 2 involved 40 undergraduates (12 males, 28 females) who were studying social psychology in an organizational ergonomic course. The participants were divided into 10 groups of 4 each (5 groups per experimental condition). The procedure and measures were identical to those used in the first study, except for the system supporting electronic brainstorming. This system made it more difficult to access the other participants’ ideas, as in brainwriting, because the notes were placed haphazardly on the table or Webpage. The system used in this study is based on the free-access tool Wallwisher (www.wallwisher.com), which does not require pre-installation and enables users to share ideas easily with other group members (see Appendix B). More precisely, participants create virtual notes that can be read by the other group members. When participants double-click at the center of the screen, an empty note appears in which they can type and sign an idea. After each idea was produced, participants had to refresh the Webpage using the Reload button on their browsers. Each note can be moved on the page using a drag-and-drop procedure to be read by the other group members.

This electronic brainstorming technique is very similar to brainwriting, except that ideas are typed and not written by hand. In both conditions, all of the participants were required to make an effort to read the ideas produced by other group members, either by picking up a slip of paper from the center of the table (BWr) or by selecting a sticky-note on a Webpage (EBS).

Thus, unlike Study 1, a list of ideas was not automatically displayed on the computer screen, so participants had to make an extra effort to see the other participants’ ideas. Consequently, the attentional processes involved during the task should have been relatively similar to the brainwriting condition, and there was clearly less exposure to the ideas produced by other group members than in Study 1.

Results

A series of t tests was performed to compare the effects of the two techniques on performance, attention, and satisfaction. However, in contrast to Study 1, the results were only analyzed at an individual level because of the small sample size.

In contrast to the first study, the results reveal similar performance regarding the number of non-redundant ideas generated with electronic brainstorming (M = 8.00, SD = 3.28) and brainwriting (M = 7.55, SD = 3.45) techniques, t(38) = 0.44, p = .66, r = .07. Similarly, no statistical difference was observed in attention to ideas produced by other group members, indirectly measured by the number of redundant ideas generated using electronic brainstorming (M = 3.60, SD = 2.50) and brainwriting (M = 4.30, SD = 2.41) techniques, t(38) = -0.90, p = .37, r = .14. Finally, participants were more satisfied producing their ideas with EBS (M = 2.37, SD = 0.60) than with BWr (M = 1.90, SD= 0.67), t(38) = 2.54, p < .01, r = .35. As in Study 1, no statistical difference was observed in evaluation apprehension between EBS (M = 2.27, SD = 0.80) and BWr (M = 2.32, SD = 0.70), t(38) = -0.20, p = .84, r = .03. The lack of differences in Study 2 could be a result of the small sample size. However, the fact that the means are approximately the same lends support to the reliability of the present results.

Discussion

The results of the second study suggest that the difficulty of exposure to ideas produced by other group members is a crucial factor hindering participants from focusing their attention on those ideas. When exposure to ideas produced by others requires similar (and high) efforts to those required for the brainwriting technique, the differences previously observed between EBS and BWr in attention and performance do not appear. However, it is interesting to note that the level of satisfaction remained the same, with greater satisfaction with electronic brainstorming than with brainwriting. This suggests that it is not necessarily the attentional processes involved in electronic brainstorming that produce satisfaction per se, but, rather, the fact that ideas are shared by means of an electronic system instead of pen and paper.

These findings are consistent with the meta-analyses of DeRosa et al. (2007), demonstrating that EBS participants are more satisfied than are those in face-to-face groups (participants in the BWr condition are also in face-to-face groups). This preference for EBS compared to BWr may be a result of the novelty of the technology or the fact that it provides better accessibility to the ideas produced by other group members (see DeRosa et al., 2007). Further studies should be conducted to confirm the strength of this effect over a longer period of time.

General Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Electronic Brainstorming
  4. Brainwriting
  5. Effects of Electronic Brainstorming and Brainwriting Techniques on Performance
  6. Hypotheses
  7. Study 1
  8. Study 2
  9. General Discussion
  10. References
  11. Appendix: Appendix A
  12. Appendix: Appendix B

The present studies provide some interesting findings for brainstorming research and for activities promoting creativity in groups. First, this research demonstrates that electronic brainstorming and brainwriting techniques should not be systematically considered as interchangeable. Second, the results indirectly suggest that attention paid to the ideas of other group members plays a crucial role in idea-generation task performance, which may partly explain the superiority effect of electronic brainstorming over brainwriting, with pooling of ideas in both cases. However, as demonstrated in Study 2, when the electronic brainstorming system requires an extra effort to see the other participants’ ideas, the superiority effect does not appear. In other words, these studies suggest that the pooling approach, which is a major feature of EBS, is more effective for EBS than for BWr (Study 1). However, if the EBS is forced into a system whereby a similar level of attention is paid to others’ ideas as in BWr (Study 2), there is no difference. Third, participants are more satisfied when the ideas are generated using electronic brainstorming than brainwriting, irrespective of the electronic system used. Consequently, even if satisfaction is greater with electronic brainstorming techniques than with traditional brainwriting, creativity only improves when participants are exposed to a flow of ideas without having to make any effort to read them.

Among the limitations of the present research, it is not clear whether attention during brainwriting was directed to the group members themselves or to their ideas. This distinction is important in order to determine the respective impact of electronic brainstorming and brainwriting techniques on performance and attention. In electronic brainstorming, because participants do not see each other (even if they are in the same room), attention is essentially paid to ideas. Conversely, in brainwriting, attention may be directed to ideas, but also to the group members generating the ideas. In other words, compared to brainwriting, electronic brainstorming may increase the attentional focus on the task, helping to reduce redundancy and improve task performance. This interpretation is also consistent with the functioning of virtual teams where the lack of social cues leads group members to focus on the task, instead of on people (e.g., Walther, Anderson, & Park, 1994).

Similarly, extending the swift trust model (Meyerson, Weick, & Kramer, 1996) to virtual groups (e.g., DeRosa, Hantula, Kock, & D'Arcy, 2004; Jarvenpaa, Knoll, & Leidner 1998; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999), it is reasonable to suppose that participants involved in a brief electronic brainstorming session are more inclined to focus their attention on the task than on interpersonal relationships. Indeed, because of the temporary nature of virtual teams, participants have little time to build relationships and must act as swiftly to perform tasks as if trust was in place. Consequently, in an idea-generation task, they should focus their attention on unique and creative ideas, eliminating redundant ones, leading to greater efficiency. However, attentional focus on ideas (or on the people generating the ideas) needs to be experimentally controlled in future studies; for example, by separating participants by means of partitions they will have to share ideas without seeing each other. Nevertheless, this limitation does not explain why no similar differences in performance were found between EBS and BWr in the second study.

Despite this limitation concerning the attentional processes involved in an idea-generation task, the effects of these two techniques on creative performance may have important implications for practitioners, in that electronic brainstorming and brainwriting techniques can no longer be considered as interchangeable, at least when participants are readily exposed to the flow of ideas produced by others with an electronic system. Consequently, it is preferable to use electronic brainstorming with pooling of ideas than to use brainwriting with pooling of ideas to improve creative performance, and more specifically to increase the number of generated ideas. This recommendation is particularly relevant because electronic systems produce higher levels of satisfaction (see DeRosa et al., 2007).

However, it contradicts the findings of Stroebe et al. (2010) in the most recent theoretical review of brainstorming research to date who suggest the use of paper rather than computers to stimulate idea generation. At the end of their review, the researchers state that “If you have a computer system that allows for idea sharing (EBS), that is fine. However, do not buy such a system—exchanging slips of paper (brainwriting) is just as effective and a lot less expensive” (p. 199). The present findings qualify this assertion, demonstrating a superiority effect of electronic brainstorming with pooling over brainwriting with pooling; that is, when reading the ideas of other participants is facilitated by a system that provides continuous exposure to a flow of ideas (Study 1). Nevertheless, the remarks of Stroebe et al. are correct if a system is used that requires extra effort to see the other participants’ ideas (Study 2). Although the present studies were conducted with an applied perspective, they are also of interest for theoretical research in view of a number of important unresolved questions concerning the so-called superiority effect of electronic brainstorming with pooling over other idea-generation techniques.

Another limitation of these studies is uncertainty regarding the size of the electronic brainstorming groups, compared to those in other studies. The electronic brainstorming literature reveals a group-size effect, with poorer performance by small groups than by nominal groups, and better performance in groups of 8 or more (e.g., Dennis & Williams, 2005; DeRosa et al., 2007). Because the brainwriting literature has not investigated group size, this procedure could be predicted to work better with smaller groups that allow greater attention to be paid to shared ideas. Because the group-size effect was not tested in the present studies, it would be interesting to manipulate the size of groups experimentally in future studies to better understand the attentional mechanisms involved in the two techniques.

By demonstrating a superiority effect of electronic brainstorming, compared to brainwriting—at least when participants are readily exposed to a flow of ideas generated by other group members—this research should be considered as a first attempt to investigate an overlooked issue in brainstorming research. Overall, the present results extend previous experimental studies demonstrating indirectly that electronic brainstorming boosts cognitive stimulation (e.g., Dugosh et al., 2000) and improves satisfaction (e.g., Dennis & Valacich, 1993; DeRosa et al., 2007). These two techniques should no longer be considered as interchangeable, and future studies should develop this line of investigation from an applied perspective. Future research should directly examine the role of attention in EBS and BWr, one way being to monitor the way ideas in the pool are accessed.

To conclude, our findings shed further light on brainstorming research and practice and suggest that researchers and practitioners should be cautious in their choice of techniques to optimize creativity in a technological world. By extension, they provide useful guidelines for improving performance in virtual teams (e.g., Lepsinger & DeRosa, 2010; Michinov, 2012; Michinov & Michinov, 2009).

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Electronic Brainstorming
  4. Brainwriting
  5. Effects of Electronic Brainstorming and Brainwriting Techniques on Performance
  6. Hypotheses
  7. Study 1
  8. Study 2
  9. General Discussion
  10. References
  11. Appendix: Appendix A
  12. Appendix: Appendix B
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