Girotra, Terwiesch, and Ulrich: “Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Ideas”

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Management Science Vol. 56, No. 4, April 2010, pp. 591-605

Brainstorming is a commonly used tool to generate ideas, and there are several approaches, including round robin, silent, and spontaneous. In “Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Ideas” (Management Science Vol. 56, No. 4, April 2010, pp. 591-605), authors Karan Girotra, Christian Terwiesch, and Karl T. Ulrich detail their research to determine whether there are more effective ways to generate more, and higher quality ideas.

Girotra, Terwiesch, and Ulrich worked with two organizational structures in their research:

  • Teams of four individuals that worked on the task for 30 minutes
  • ‘Hybrid’ groups of four who worked individually on the task for 10 minutes, and then worked as a team for 20 minutes

There were two tasks:

  1. Identify new sports and fitness products for the student market
  2. Identify new dorm and apartment products for the student market

Participants were upper level product design students at the University of Pennsylvania; all participated in both organizational structures and both tasks.

Each of the ideas generated by the teams and hybrid groups was evaluated by a separate group of MBA students on the business value of the idea. An additional group of students was asked to rate each product idea in terms of whether they would purchase the product. These reviews indicated the ‘quality’ of the ideas.

Analysis of the data indicated that the hybrid groups produced more ideas than the groups that worked only as a team. Also, the quality of the best ideas generated by the hybrid groups was better than the quality of the best ideas generated by the teams. Researchers noted that while members of teams build on each other’s ideas, this does not lead to more ideas or higher quality ideas.

The authors conclude that bringing a group together face to face may not be the most effective way to begin the idea generation process. It may be more useful to have those involved work independently before they come together to share their individual ideas.

Additionally, the authors found that neither group did well in evaluating their ideas, compared to the data regarding business value of the idea or likelihood of purchasing the product. Consequently, it may be useful to have a structured means for evaluating ideas and alternatives, such as the criteria matrix.