Typology of Idea Generation Activities

Before looking at the activities, however, you might want to understand more about how they work. This knowledge should make them easier to use and easier to teach others to use, and also increase your understanding about creative thinking in general. If you don't want this information and want to begin using the activities, move on to Chapter 4 (or chapters following it).

It is important, however, to understand the distinction between individual and group activities. This is because the difference can be misleading with respect to which activities to use. In fact, for the purposes of this book, the distinction is an artificial one, based on how the activities originally were created. Specifically, groups can use all of the individual activities, but individuals cannot use all of the group activities.

This difference is because some of the group activities were designed originally with only groups in mind; others only for individuals. For instance, some activities involve passing idea cards or Post-it® Notes from one person to another. (You could try this as an individual, but you would probably feel a little silly!) Thus, activities that require interaction with other people must use other people. Some activities, in contrast, can be used by either individuals or groups. However, it is important to understand that ALL of the 101 activities in this book can be used by groups and are presented for use by groups.

Individual Activities

Individual activities can be classified in several ways. After reviewing the available activities, I settled on five (numbers for the individual activities are in brackets):

1. Basic Idea Generation (Chapter 4) require relatively little effort. An example would be asking a friend for an idea (Brain Borrow [2]).

2. Related and Unrelated Stimuli (Chapter 5) generate ideas by providing some sort of stimulus to play against. Such stimuli might be related directly to a problem or unrelated. Examples of related stimuli would be using the elements of a fund-raising campaign to solicit money for your nonprofit organization by using activities such as Bi-Wordal [22] or Combo Chatter [24]), both of which rely on words related to the problem. For the same problem, you also might play off of (free associate from) unrelated stimuli, such as unrelated pictures (for example, Picture Tickler [17]), words (PICLed Brains [16]), and objects (Tickler Things [21]), and see what ideas result.

3. Combinations (Chapter 6) blend or compare different problem elements and use the combinations and juxtapositions of elements to prompt ideas. Examples include Combo Chatter [24], Noun Action [28], and Parts Is Parts [30].

4. Free Association Activities (Chapter 7) rely on each previous idea triggering a subsequent idea to stimulate creative thinking. An example would be using the words "What if?" to help inspire ideas (What if. . . ? [49]). Or you might rely on exaggeration (Exaggerate That [39]) to help stretch thinking.

5. Miscellaneous Activities (Chapter 8) represent two types of activities: backward and just alike only different. Backward activities reverse some aspect of a problem to produce a different perspective and, it is hoped, new ideas. Thus, a group might reverse assumptions about a problem (Turn Around [52]) and use the reversals as stimulators. Just alike only different procedures use analogies to generate ideas. Two examples are Bionic Ideas [53] and Chain Alike [54].

Group Activities

One way to classify group activities is according to whether they are brainstorming or brainwriting methods. Brainstorming, of course, refers to traditional verbal idea generation in a group. Brainwriting is a term coined in Germany that refers to the silent, written generation of ideas in a group setting.

Brainstorming and Brainwriting

All things being equal, brainwriting groups generate more ideas than brainstorming groups. One reason is that when we interact verbally, we are often not as productive as we might otherwise be. We criticize ideas when we should not, we feel inhibited, we worry about what other people will think of our ideas, and we become sidetracked with various issues and hidden agendas. More important, research suggests that the superiority of brainwriting over brainstorming is due primarily to the fact that only one person can speak at a time in brainstorming groups (Diehl & Stroebe, 1991; VanGundy, 1993). Brainwriting groups, in contrast, may have four or five people generating ideas simultaneously.

If brainwriting yields more ideas than brainstorming, why even use brainstorming

101 Activities for Teaching Creativity and Problem Solving TLFeQDDW

groups? The answer is that we are social creatures. Most of us would have trouble not talking for a long time. We clearly can satisfy more social needs in brainstorming groups. Moreover, some brainstorming activities provide a structure that offsets some disadvantages. Thus, if a group follows a technique's procedures as written, it should be more successful than a traditional brainstorming group with no structure.

To test these notions, I once conducted an experiment using six different types of idea generation procedures (VanGundy, 1993). Each procedure was tested using six categories of four-person groups:

• Groups using procedure 1 generated ideas without any formal instructions.

• Groups using procedure 2 generated ideas but were instructed to follow brainstorm-ing rules and defer judgment (as were all subsequent groups).

• Groups using procedure 3 generated ideas using one brainstorming technique (PICLed Brains [16]).

• Groups using procedure 4 generated ideas using a brainwriting procedure in which the group members did not see one another's ideas.

• Groups using procedure 5 generated ideas using a brainwriting procedure in which the participants did see each other's ideas (Brain Purge [82]).

• Groups using procedure 6 generated ideas using combinations of brainstorming and brainwriting activities. In addition, each group using procedure 6 contained two skilled idea generation facilitators.

All the groups had 45 minutes to generate new snack food product ideas (which were evaluated later by a food products company). When ideas were counted, the groups using procedures 1 through 5 collectively generated about 1,400 ideas, and the groups using procedure 6 generated about 1,200 ideas. In fact, groups using procedure 6 generated more than ten times as many ideas as groups using procedure 1!

The results also suggested that groups using procedure 5 (brainwriting while seeing one another's ideas) generated almost four times as many ideas as groups using brainstorming without instructions. There clearly are advantages to both using brainstorming and brainwriting procedures (as well as using skilled facilitators).

Related Versus Unrelated Stimuli

Another way to classify group activities is according to whether the stimuli used are related or unrelated to the problem. An example of a related stimulus would be using different parts of a coffee mug to suggest ways to improve it. Most combination activities are based on this principle. Thus, you might combine the handle with the base to spark an idea. In this case, you might think of an integrated handle and base cup warmer. You could attach different cups and the coffee would keep warm even while the cup is in your hand.

An example of unrelated stimuli would be using different parts of a coffee mug to suggest ways to improve a product such as a flashlight or to improve customer service. For instance, the heat of a coffee mug might suggest adding a heated function to a flashlight to serve as a handwarmer, and a mug holding a liquid might prompt the idea of a flashlight with a small tube of water for emergencies. Or a coffee mug might suggest the idea of rewarding loyal customers with designer coffee mugs or to develop a customer service focus on "holding" onto "hot" customers by identifying them and devoting resources to retaining them. In general, unrelated stimuli are more likely to produce novel ideas than stimuli related to the problem.

Organization of Group Activities in This Book

The group approaches in this book have been organized according to whether they primarily use brainstorming or brainwriting and whether they use related or unrelated stimuli. One chapter is devoted to each combination below:

• Brainstorming with Related Stimuli (Chapter 9)

• Brainstorming with Unrelated Stimuli (Chapter 10)

• Brainwriting with Related Stimuli (Chapter 11)

• Brainwriting with Unrelated Stimuli (Chapter 12)

The different combinations possible are shown below:


Brainstorming Related Unrelated

Brainwriting Related Unrelated

This organization of the activities is more a matter of convenience than anything else. However, a few guidelines may help you decide which ones to use:

• Use brainwriting activities (Chapters 11 and 12) if: (1) there are conflicts or major status differences among members of a group or (2) there is relatively little time, group members are inexperienced at brainstorming, and no experienced facilitator is available.

• All things being equal, use both brainstorming and brainwriting activities to offset the weaknesses of each.

• If you want to generate unique ideas and the group is relatively inexperienced, use activities with unrelated stimuli (Chapters 10 and 12).

• When selecting group activities, remember that any of the individual activities also will be appropriate for groups.

Facilitator Guidelines for Working with Group Activities

Before learning about group activities, you need to know a little about how to work with groups to generate ideas. Here are some points to keep in mind:

• Use groups of about five people. Research has consistently shown that this is the optimal size for problem-solving groups. Four will often work well in trained groups or groups with a skilled facilitator. In a pinch, groups of six or seven will work under the same conditions.

• Make sure all groups understand the basic ground rule of deferring judgment. Try to create a fun environment. Encourage playfulness and humor. Research shows that groups characterized by laughter and humor tend to generate more ideas than their less humorous and playful counterparts.

• Use as many activities as you can in the time available. Different activities can spark different ideas depending on the personalities and experiences of the group members. What works in one group may fizzle in another. I can still remember a group member telling me that a certain technique wasn't any good and that I should stop using it. Later that day, a member of another group remarked to me that the same technique was one of the best he ever had used. Go figure.

• Above all, when using the activities or facilitating ideation sessions, always instruct participants to follow one basic rule:


This rule is essential for generating ideas and you should encourage them to reinforce this rule as they interact with each other. Emphasize that the more ideas they list, the greater the odds that one will resolve their problem. They won't produce many ideas if they spend time criticizing and evaluating them. They should save evaluation for later, after they have listed all the ideas they can. You even might have participants repeat the following phrase aloud five times in a row:

No evaluation with generation!

No evaluation with generation! No evaluation with generation! No evaluation with generation! NO EVALUATION WITH GENERATION!

Chapter 2

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