Publications / SAND Report

LDRD final report for improving human effectiveness for extreme-scale problem solving : assessing the effectiveness of electronic brainstorming in an industrial setting

Dornburg, Courtney S.; Adams, Susan S.; Hendrickson, Stacey M.; Davidson, George S.

An experiment was conducted comparing the effectiveness of individual versus group electronic brainstorming in order to address difficult, real world challenges. While industrial reliance on electronic communications has become ubiquitous, empirical and theoretical understanding of the bounds of its effectiveness have been limited. Previous research using short-term, laboratory experiments have engaged small groups of students in answering questions irrelevant to an industrial setting. The present experiment extends current findings beyond the laboratory to larger groups of real-world employees addressing organization-relevant challenges over the course of four days. Employees and contractors at a national security laboratory participated, either in a group setting or individually, in an electronic brainstorm to pose solutions to a 'wickedly' difficult problem. The data demonstrate that (for this design) individuals perform at least as well as groups in producing quantity of electronic ideas, regardless of brainstorming duration. However, when judged with respect to quality along three dimensions (originality, feasibility, and effectiveness), the individuals significantly (p<0.05) out-performed the group working together. When idea quality is used as the benchmark of success, these data indicate that work-relevant challenges are better solved by aggregating electronic individual responses, rather than electronically convening a group. This research suggests that industrial reliance upon electronic problem solving groups should be tempered, and large nominal groups might be the more appropriate vehicle for solving wicked corporate issues.