Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

A Revival of Osborn's Original Propositions: The Role of Inspirational Facilitation in Divergent Thinking Effectiveness

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

A Revival of Osborn's Original Propositions: The Role of Inspirational Facilitation in Divergent Thinking Effectiveness

Article excerpt

Brainstorming has received harsh criticism over the years, and scholars and practitioners may harbor negative views of its effectiveness (see Mullen et al., 1991 for review). Several reasons exist for this tendency and perception. First, experimental research points to process loss issues from group brainstorming and lower idea-generating productivity relative to an identical number of individuals working alone (Mullen et al., 1991; Diehl and Stroebe, 1991; Paulus and Dzindolet, 1993; Camacho and Paulus, 1995). In addition, participants in group brainstorming activities are said to suffer from an illusion of productivity because they rate their performance higher than those working alone even though their output may be lower than that of individuals working in isolation (Paulus et al. 1993). Second, practitioners with limited understanding and unrealistic expectations of brainstorming (and of the creative problem-solving process in general) "... jumped at it as a panacea, then turned against it when no miracles resulted" (Osborn, 1963: 152). Third, there are powerful contextual forces that resist the correct use of divergent thinking techniques that may have contributed to its decline (Kalargiros and Manning, 2015; Sutton and Hargadon, 1996).

However, scholarly research on brainstorming may have drawn misleading conclusions regarding its effectiveness. In this paper, it is suggested that this is due to a lack of adherence to several of the original process guidelines advocated in Applied Imagination (Osborn, 1963) and common misconceptions about the process. Key infractions in this research include absence of facilitators during group brainstorms, sessions lasting significantly less than thirty minutes, small groups composed of significantly fewer than ten people, and lack of brainstorm training. Many studies pitted individual and group brainstorming against each other to determine which of the two processes was most efficient. These studies did not heed Osborn's advice that these two processes are complementary and that a "triple attack" (1963: 191) of individual-groupindividual brainstorming sessions may be an effective sequence of idea finding. Complementarity of these two processes is illustrated by the customary practice to engage in individual preparation prior to subsequent participation in group brainstorm sessions (Sutton and Hargadon, 1996).

In spite of all these criticisms, Osborn's brainstorming guidelines of quantity, freewheeling, deferment of judgment, and combination of ideas (Osborn, 1953, 1963) remain the most well-known and widely utilized process guidelines of idea-generation whether it be in individual or group idea generation sessions. This study argues that these four important process guidelines are a poor and incomplete distillation of Osborn's (1963) work. It is proposed that facilitators should not only be trained to implement these four basic divergent thinking rules but also to instill positive affect, promotion focus, and self-efficacy in participants in order to enhance creativity in individual and group idea-generation sessions.

This study does not propose that facilitators should act as process flow regulators (although that has been shown in the above studies to improve idea-generation performance). Instead it proposes to integrate some of Osborn's forgotten wisdom and infuse "the spirit of a brainstorm session" (Osborn, 1979: 157) in any idea generating session whether it be solo or group. Based on the content analysis of his work and his recommendations, the facilitator should motivate participants using the inspirational condition prior to idea generation to raise levels of activated positive affect, perceptions of efficacy and promotion focus. Participants' elevated subjective experience would not only render any idea generating session more intrinsically motivating but also raise ideageneration performance.

Amabile's (1996) model of the traditional view of the creative process proposes a distinct separation between the creative process steps of response generation and response validation. …

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