Computer-aided brainstorming research paper by Dr Peter Clayton

[Proceedings of the international conference on creative thinking. Proceedings of the international conference on creative thinking. University of Malta · Jul 1, 1997]

Computer-aided brainstorming research paper
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Brainstorming is all well and good until you come to the point where you can’t think of new ideas. It promises so much yet often doesn’t meet expectations. How often does your brainstorming just dry up and you keep running in circles and coming up the same ideas again and again? Sometimes it is like getting blood out of a stone.

It is now time to start using advanced brainstorming techniques, and this article will explain why your computer is ideal for helping you in these situations. Computer enhanced brainstorming makes coming up with new ideas very easy. Never be stuck for a new idea by using a computer to spark off new ways of thinking.

One of the problems with standard brainstorming is that most of the people start off thinking in the same way. In most cases, people who work in the same department have similar experiences and backgrounds. They often come up with the same ideas about potential solutions because they have worked together for a long time. It is very hard to escape from their current mindset.

Using standard brainstorming techniques are also inhibited by groups of people who have built up their social structure over a long time. They are now in need of advanced brainstorming techniques that will spark off new ideas and break them out of their normal thinking patterns. For an unlimited number of new prompts all they need is one ordinary computer.

Advanced brainstorming

So what is an advanced brainstorming technique? Well, if standard brainstorming is the process of losing inhibitions in order to follow abnormal trains of thought to a useful conclusion, then advanced brainstorming makes this loss of inhibition easier. Create your own totally original starting points to follow and when these trains of thought are followed there is an increased likelihood of new solutions being found. Advanced brainstorming is the combination of standard brainstorming with pro-active creative thinking techniques.

These techniques include Random Word, Random Picture, False Rules and SCAMPER. Not only do these techniques help groups to brainstorm; they even allow an individual to brainstorm by themselves. Using a prompt from any of these techniques will greatly enhance your ability to generate new ideas and will make the whole process easier.

Creative thinking techniques involve presenting yourself with a new stimulus which you then use to spark off a new solution. You take the stimulus, extract the principles and concepts behind it and reapply these principles to see what happens. It really is amazing how powerful these techniques are. By cross breeding two different objects or actions you will create thought patterns and ideas that have never existed before.

To come up with a radically new, yet practical, solution you need to start from a concept outside of your current environment in order to open your mind. To think out of “the box” you must first realise that you are in an enclosed box of thought and that the box can only be opened from the outside. You need to seek external stimuli to break you out of your current mindset. If you need instant access to external stimuli then a computer is the ideal tool.

Computer enhanced creativity

A computer has absolutely no inhibitions and is not constrained to any current philosophies on market behaviour or social structure. Creativity software will present you with an original suggestion for you to develop into a workable solution. Some companies invite “creative” people to their sessions to spark off new ideas. Why not try using special computer software to spark off new ideas instead?

They are not creative in the normal sense but it is the combination of a computer and our human minds that is perfect for the easy generation of new ideas. You can try using special computer software and this will work on almost everyone with only a small amount of training. Not only will it be more reliable in its production of fresher and broader stimuli; it will also be less disruptive and it will keep quiet when necessary.

Benefits of computers vs people to help creativity

No individual person can provide such a wide-ranging range of stimuli almost instantaneously compared to a computer. A computer can draw its information from an enormous electronic database incorporating information from encyclopedias, image warehouses and the entire Internet. If one stimulus doesn’t work, just instantaneously get another!

The details of how to use creative thinking techniques and why they work are beyond the scope of this article. Needless to say if you do not use these techniques within your brainstorming sessions then you will be severely limiting your generation of new ideas and solutions. The rest of this article will concentrate on how to use computers in brainstorming sessions and the benefits they bring. (Have a look at brainstorming.co.uk on the Internet for guidance on using the mentioned creative thinking techniques.)

First of all it is worth highlighting that using creative thinking techniques on a computer means that you can brainstorm by yourself. Your idea generation can be highly successful without the sometimes-enormous expense of room preparation, administrative and managerial time, and business disruption. In my experience one person using computer-aided brainstorming can match up to ten people using standard brainstorming processes. Instead of needing other people to stimulate fresh thought, use your computer.

There are two methods proposed for improving your group brainstorming sessions. Your choice of these will depend on your individual circumstances and your resources in terms of numbers of computers. Different groups of people and different situations may require you to change your choice at different times depending on the people in the groups and the room layout.

1. Single computer method

The first method only requires the use of one computer and is much more similar to standard brainstorming. With your normal team of brainstorming participants, use the stimuli from the computer to start off the brainstorming process. Insist that each member of the group make use of the stimulus in the generation of the initial ideas. You should then encourage the progression of these initial ideas into workable solutions. A note-taker should then type in all of ideas into the computer for later analysis.

2. Multiple computer method

The second method of computer-aided brainstorming is a development of the first. This is where everyone in the group has their own computer and each person starts off with their own computer-generated creative stimulus. You have now created a situation where everyone in the group is approaching the problem from a different direction. You are really starting to think out of the box now. It is vital at this point for you to remind participants that they are “supposed to be” putting forward challenging ideas and that they are fully justified in putting forward seemingly-strange ideas with the primary purpose of sparking off further ideas within other people.

Which method should you use?

Single computer method

The single computer method is ideal for any of the following conditions:

  • Computer resources are limited.
  • You want to be able to brainstorm in any room anywhere (using a laptop).
  • You want to slowly convert people from standard brainstorming to computer-aided brainstorming.
  • The people in the group are not good at working by themselves.
  • You are working by yourself.

(Yes, these last two initially seem to conflict but just like many things in life they are very different situations but require the same solution. The same solution works in different ways in different environments.)

Multiple computer method

The multiple computer method is ideal for any of the following conditions:

  • You have access to a room of computers.
  • The group is good at role-playing and so will market and promote their own stimulus with enthusiasm.
  • The people in the groups love rowdy and unstructured debates and discussions.
  • The people in the groups prefer to generate ideas by themselves and are usually inhibited by rowdy and unstructured debates and discussions during the generation section.

(Yes, it does work for both of the different types of people but of course in different ways.)

Still applying normal rules

The normal rules for brainstorming still apply in all cases: There is to be no saying “it won’t work” and there is to be no evaluation of the ideas until the end of the creative part of the session. The purpose of the group is to put forward new ideas and to spark off new solutions in other people and themselves. The people in the group are not there to put other people or their ideas down.

Such people should be sent out if they break the rules, if only temporarily for amusement value. The ideas people put forward are proposed as a catalyst for a solution and are not proposed as the final solution. The computer tools are there to help with the catalyst process.

Ways to use computers for brainstorming

There are many other uses of computers in brainstorming sessions, such as (1) recording and distributing the sequence of ideas and the final conclusions, (2) allowing simultaneous contributions of ideas by different people into their own computer, and (3) in the future voice-recognition software will enable the entire sequence of events to be recorded as it happens and replayed exactly. Creativity software can also be used to analyse and narrow down the proposed solutions.

The notes made in these sessions should be made available not just to the group of participants but to all of the people in the company. The same ideas that are not used in one situation could spark off great improvements in other departments and groups in the organisation. The withholding of ideas and information from other departments prevents the development of a creative environment. Computer networks are perfect for the distribution of brainstormed ideas. You visualise this whole process of group-brainstorm sessions combined with wider distribution as a permanent, company-wide, computer-aided brainstorming session.

Summary

If you want to improve your brainstorming and ensure that you are never stuck for a new idea, you need instant access to an enormous range of stimuli. The range of stimuli available through your computer is practically infinite. Your computer is the ideal tool to prompt you into thinking about things from a different angle at absolutely any time. Computer aided brainstorming will improve the creative ability of you and your group and will ensure your brainstorming sessions never dry up.

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