Research

Brainstorming: More Ideas, Better Ideas

"It is not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion which makes race horses."  Mark Twain

"... to the extent that hemispheric organisation is under experimental control, the cognitive repertoire of an individual may be dynamically changed to best fit the task at hand."  Eran Zaidel

Brain think image

A topic that Tony Buzan refers to repeatedly is the idea of brainstorming without editing, and your related attitude concerning quantity and quality.

While these ideas are extremely relevant to the creative process, little experimental work has been conducted in this area.

However, one impressive study was conducted by Johnson, Parrott and Stratton (1968) and is reported in Anderson (1985).

In this experiment, two groups of subjects were instructed to generate ideas for a plot. Group 1 was instructed to generate one best plot title while Group 2 was instructed to generate many titles with no regard for the quality of the titles. Two other people judged the quality of the titles for both groups. The results showed, as expected, that Group 2 generated more titles overall.

However, unexpectedly, they also generated more titles of superior quality than Group 1. That is, when the group was instructed to focus on quantity rather than quality, more titles of a superior quality were generated than when the group was instructed to focus on quality rather than quantity. The results showed that as quantity rose, quality also rose.

An additional interesting finding was that, when the subjects in each group were instructed to judge which of their solutions were best, there was virtually no difference between the groups. Both groups agreed on the quality of the titles. This suggests, Anderson points out, that the subjects in Group 1, who were instructed to generate one best title, may have brainstormed internally and then edited the ideas before writing the best one down.

The above research suggests that both brainstorming and editing are important in ultimately generating quality solutions to problems. This supports Buzan's suggestion of unedited brainstorming, or associations for Mind Maps, and saving the editing process for later.

This information may be very beneficial for brainstorming problem-solving sessions for your business. As suggested earlier, it would be valuable to tape record brainstorming sessions, have someone transcribe the tape, and ultimately have all the ideas mind mapped in front of the people making the final decisions. It is very important to remember that editing and judging should be conducted after, rather than before or during, the process of idea generation.

Relearning how to draw

It has been reported in scientific literature that spatial tasks are better performed by the right hemisphere (right brain) and many people in the field of popular psychology take the stand that drawing unlocks the right hemisphere.

While it is true that drawing may help us to unlock latent creative talents that can generalize to problem solving, it is not at all clear, according to Buzan and to recent developments in science, that drawing may solely involve the right hemisphere.

As there are a multitude of programs aimed at business and promising to unlock the right hemisphere through imagery and drawing, it is extremely important for you to know the initial research that led to the discovery of this right hemisphere superiority and recent developments in the field.

Virtually all of the early left brain/right brain research was conducted by Roger Sperry and his associates on split-brain humans. Briefly, split-brain humans have had their corpus-callosums surgically severed as a means of controlling severe epilepsy. It is through experiments with these people that our knowledge of hemispheric functioning began. In fact in 1981, Roger Sperry received the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine for this research.

Michael Gazzaniga was one of Sperry's students at the time of the initial research. In Gazzaniga's book The Social Brain, he discusses the initial experiment that showed the right hemisphere advantage for spatial tasks. A split-brain subject was shown a picture of a geometric figure, was given blocks, and was instructed to construct the figure. The left hand, which is controlled mainly by the right hemisphere, had no problem with this task.

The right hand, which is controlled mainly by the left hemisphere, was unable to do the task. When both hands were allowed to work together on the task, the left would make progress while the right would often interfere, dominate, and halt progress. It was from experiments such as these that the right brain became known as the hemisphere specialised for visuo-spatial tasks. It is important to keep in mind that the initial research reported above was conducted in 1961.

Since that time, science has been constantly developing finer techniques for testing the cerebral hemispheres of both spilt-brain and normal people.

The results of these subsequent tests appear to show that much of the differences between the hemispheres lie not in the nature of the stimuli but what is to be done with the stimuli. In other words, differences appear to lie in processing styles, with the left hemisphere processing information in a serial or step-by-step manner, and the right hemisphere processing information in a parallel, holistic, or simultaneous manner.

The interested reader is referred to an invaluable book, Ornstein's The Psychology of Consciousness.

Bever & Chiarello (1974) conducted a study illustrating how the two hemispheres process the same stimuli in different manners.

Groups of trained musicians and non-musicians were given a musical recognition task. The researchers found that the non-musicians showed a left ear advantage, or predominantly used the right hemisphere for the task, while the trained musicians showed a right ear advantage, or predominantly used the left hemisphere for the task.

The researchers suggested that the non-musicians focused their attention on the overall melody contour, while the trained musicians focused their attention on the intervals or steps from one note to the next.

Bever & Chiarello's findings suggest a crucial idea concerning the predominant use for the left or right hemispheres. Our brains have an element of plasticity. While we may be used to a particular processing style, we can learn a different more beneficial style of processing, as evidenced by the difference in hemispheric use between trained musicians and non-musicians.

By practicing the drawing exercises, Buzan is assisting you in shifting from an untrained to a trained style of processing the information and critically evaluating the finished product. While early studies suggested that hemispheric organisation was a fixed condition in the brain, recent findings such as Bever & Chiarello's support Zaidel's quote at the beginning of this section.

By changing the task demands or level of expertise of the individual, the cognitive style used for a particular task can also be changed.

As you learn a new skill, you can shift from using one particular style of processing to another style of processing. Learning to draw is a powerful exercise. Not only are you changing how to perceive, but you are also learning new ways to stimulate associations and create images as in Mind Mapping.

Most of us in business are used to writing words rather than drawing images and often words can be limiting. We are often in a situation where we say, "Oh, you know what I mean, what's the word I'm looking for?" The use of images can help us get out of the limiting domain of words and can spark creativity in new directions. In this way, learning to draw will help prepare you for the mnemonics exercises that are a crucial part of Buzan's course.

Betty Edwards has written two books which contain excellent examples and exercises for developing your artistic abilities. The first of these, Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain, was and continues to be very popular and contains valuable information. Keep in mind that the conclusions she makes referring to the right hemisphere may not be in agreement with current scientific thinking. However, her results are straightforward.

Whether the theory is correct or not, she will teach you how to draw better and take a more creative perspective regarding problem solving.

References:

Anderson JR. Cognitive psychology and its implications. W.H. Freeman and Company, New York; 1985

Bever T, Chiarello R. Cerebral dominance in musicians and non-musicians. Science. 1974;185

Edwards B. Drawing on the right side of the brain. JP Tarcher, Inc; 1979.

Gazzaniga M. The social brain. Basic Books Inc, NY; 1985

Johnson DM, Parrott GL, Stratton RP. Production and judgment of solutions to five problems; 1968.

Ornstein R. The psychology of consciousness. Haracourt B Jovanonvich, NY; 1977.

Springer S, Deutsch G. Left brain, right brain. WH Freeman & Co, NY; 1985