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Table 6 Techniques for Generating More Alternatives

  • 1.

    Defer judgment.

  • 2.

    Expand current alternatives.

  • 3.

    Combine unrelated attributes.

Defer Judgment

Probably the most common method of generating alternatives is the technique of brainstorming devel- oped by Osborn (1993). This tool is powerful because most people make quick judgments about each piece of information or each alternative solution they encounter. Brainstorming is designed to help people generate alternatives for problem solving without pre- maturely evaluating, and hence discarding, them. Four main rules govern brainstorming:

1. No evaluation of any kind is permitted as alter- natives are being generated. Individual energy is spent on generating ideas, not on defending them.

produced at the outset of a brainstorming session, the quantity of ideas rapidly subsides. But to stop there is an ineffective use of brainstorming. When easily iden- tifiable solutions have been exhausted, that’s when the truly creative alternatives are often produced in brain- storming groups. So keep working!

The best way to get a feel for the power of brain- storming groups is to participate in one. Try the follow- ing exercise based on an actual problem faced by a group of students and university professors. Spend at least 10 minutes in a small group, brainstorming ideas.

A request has been made for a faculty member to design an executive education program for midlevel managers at a major automobile company. It is to focus on enhancing creativity and innovation among managers. The trouble is, the top human resource executive indi- cates that he does not want to approach the subject with brain teasers or games. Instead, he wants other approaches that will help these managers become more creative per- sonally and more effective at fostering innova- tion among others.

  • 2.

    The wildest and most divergent ideas are encouraged. It is easier to tighten alternatives than to loosen them up.

  • 3.

    The quantity of ideas takes precedence over the quality. Emphasizing quality engenders judgment and evaluation.

  • 4.

    Participants should build on or modify the ideas of others. Poor ideas that are added to or altered often become good ideas. The idea of brainstorming is to use it in a group

setting so individuals can stimulate ideas in one another. Recent research has found, however, that brainstorming in a group may be less efficient than alternative forms of brainstorming (due to free riders, unwitting evaluations, production blocking, etc.). One widely used alternative brainstorming technique is to have individual group members generate ideas on their own then submit them to the group for exploration and evaluation (Fine, Ward, & Smith, 1992). Alter- natively, electronic brainstorming in which individuals use chat rooms or their own computer to generate ideas has shown positive results as well (Siau, 1995). What is clear from the research is that generating alternatives using a group in the process produces more and better ideas than can be produced alone.

One caution about brainstorming should be noted, however. Often, after a rush of alternatives is

What ideas can you come up with for teaching this subject of creative problem solving to midlevel managers in an organization? How could you help them learn to be more creative? Generate as many ideas as you can following the rules of brainstorming. After at least 10 minutes, assess the fluency and flexi- bility of the ideas generated.

Expand Current Alternatives

Sometimes, brainstorming in a group is not possible or is too costly in terms of the number of people involved and hours required. Managers facing a fast-paced, twenty-first-century environment may find brainstorm- ing to be too inefficient. Moreover, people sometimes need an external stimulus or blockbuster to help them generate new ideas. One useful and readily available technique for expanding alternatives is subdivision, or dividing a problem into smaller parts. This is a well- used and proven technique for enlarging the alterna- tive set.

March and Simon (1958: 193) suggested that sub- division improves problem solving by increasing the speed with which alternatives can be generated and selected:

The mode of subdivision has an influence on the extent to which planning can proceed




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