When I was working in Shanghai few years ago, I was constantly asked by both the clients and employers to copy other people’s designs from the interior design magazines from the US, and the funniest part was one of the employers asked me to copy a project which was designed by me and published in the magazine few years back in the US. Stop asking me to copy American designers’ designs because I am an American designer! I had my interior design college education in the US. I also had all of my interior design work experiences in the US. Nationality wise, I am also an American. Do I need to dye my hair blonde or wear blue contact lenses in order to convince you that?! Show me some respect, You Asians!!
Does brainstorming really work? That is the question I have been always wondering. I always felt my ideas were blocked during the design meetings by certain people who were holding higher positions at work, and I found a great article on UT Arlington Magazine written by Camille Rogers which is right on! Here is the article I would like to share:
Does brainstorming really work?
Scientist’s research sheds light on the effectiveness of group creativity
Brainstorming—a technique to get the creative juices flowing—may not be as effective as many people think. According to College of Science Dean Paul Paulus, group brainstorming tends to be unproductive.
“The formal brainstorming process is the exchange of ideas under conditions that encourage individuals to exchange as many ideas as possible without worrying about quality,” he explains. “The assumption is that through the uninhibited exchange of many ideas, more good ideas will be generated.”
Advertising executive Alex Osborn studied group idea generating in the 1940s and coined the term “brainstorming.” He proposed that group brainstorming is more likely to generate a higher number of good ideas than will individual brainstorming.
Contemporary research, however, suggests otherwise. Most current literature asserts that group brainstorming is half as effective as individual brainstorming.
But that hasn’t stopped the practice.
“It is widely used in creative industries like design, advertising and film, although it takes different forms,” said Robert Sutton, co-director of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization at Stanford University. “And the question of whether it is effective is, in my view, completely unanswered by rigorous research.”
Dr. Paulus has dedicated the past 15 years to researching group brainstorming and making it more effective. He has conducted dozens of experiments in an effort to demonstrate the presumed benefits of group creativity.
For up to two hours, subjects, predominantly university students, were placed in groups of four and told to generate ideas on a topic of interest. They typically interacted face to face but sometimes were asked to attempt computer-based idea exchange.
Paulus’ findings were consistent with other studies. Group brainstorming did produce a number of ideas, but few were any good. He compares group brainstorming to a thunderstorm.
“There’s plenty of rain in the storm, that is, plenty of ideas falling from the sky. But there’s not much lightning—the exceptional ideas that have the potential to set things on fire.”
Group brainstorming becomes ineffective when “blocking” occurs—when group interaction inhibits an individual’s flow of good ideas or limits the ability to contribute. Thus, groups provide the perfect environment for some people to do nothing while others do the work.
Paulus says these kinds of barriers are especially detrimental for professional groups like those in the lab-based sciences. “If we care about staying ahead in the innovation race in this world, it would seem important that we use the most effective means of tapping our creative potential.”
Most people apparently are not even aware of the factors that sabotage their group brainstorming. Ironically, many groups deem their sessions productive. They have become accustomed to unproductive brainstorming sessions producing few quality ideas. Bad group brainstorming is the norm, so participants have the illusion of being more productive than they actually are.
Paulus and researcher Vince Brown (who now works at Hofstra University) developed a cognitive model of group brainstorming that predicts positive effects.
The model is based on the idea that creative group interaction consists of both cognitive and social dynamics. The collaborative exchange of ideas between members introduces them to new ideas and allows them to discover connections in their “knowledge network” that they may not have been able to create on their own. For productive group brainstorming, the benefits of cognitive stimulation should be heightened and the negative social forces limited.
To “get the most out of group brains,” as Paulus puts it, participating members should be able to process as many of the shared ideas as possible. One way is to eliminate the blocking effects of face-to-face interaction. He has found that two techniques alleviate the problem.
“Brainwriting” and “electronic brainstorming” enable people to share their ideas via pieces of paper or on a computer network, respectively. A high number of ideas can be generated because members don’t have to wait their turn in the discussion process. But there’s a drawback: People can become so wrapped up in producing their own ideas that they don’t take time to process those produced by others. They must fully pay attention to the ideas being shared if they want a quality brainstorming session.
Face-to-face interaction is usually more feasible than brainwriting and electronic networking, though, and Paulus has also identified what enhances this more traditional approach. People tend to perform better with enhanced motivation, like providing group members competitive feedback about each other’s performances.
The same can be said for the cognitive process, such as asking group members to focus on the quantity and not quality of their ideas. Facilitators are also useful in maintaining productivity. They can guide a group away from negative behaviors like individual domination, criticism or getting off track by telling stories.
Another way that face-to-face brainstorming can enhance group productivity is to alternate between group and individual brainstorming. Ideas may be stimulated during group interaction, but a subsequent period of solitary brainstorming may enable an individual to effectively build on those ideas.
The attitudes of the group members also come into play. People who have a positive attitude toward working in a group tend to perform better than those who do not.
Recently Paulus helped organize a National Science Foundation workshop that focused on summarizing the implications of the group creativity literature for innovation in science and industry. Already this year he has presented his work at a conference sponsored by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that focuses on improving analytical processes.
His findings are being incorporated into textbooks and applied by practitioners. He hopes to do studies in professional organizations that demonstrate the efficacy of various techniques for enhancing group innovation.
So, if your company is still using this old fashioned way to generate ideas, you might want to think about changing it.
When my wife and I went to buy coffee at coffee shops in Shanghai, my wife usually went to find seats, and I was the only person who ordered the coffee. I told the cashier that I wanted a cup of Cafe Americano and a cup of Latte, but every time, the cashier put Coffee Americano into the machine first, and when I said I also wanted a cup of Latte, the cashier always canceled the Cafe Americano and then put in the Latte. Well….I wanted both Cafe Americano and Latte!
I was always wondering why the cashiers kept doing that in Shanghai?! Finally, I know why. If my wife was with me at the cashier, this kind of situation would not happen, but when I went to order alone, it happened. Because the cashiers always assumed I was alone if I ordered alone, so when I ordered the second item, they automatically thought I changed my mind on my first order and canceled it. The cashiers in China tried to be faster, so they thought by assuming things for me ahead which would shorten the ordering time, but they did not realize when they did that each time, they actually made me angry. They tried to expedite the ordering but lost the quality of service. I also saw similar situations occurred in interior design business over there. Enough said. Faster design is not always better design.
In the States, I designed people’s houses in Carribeans and the local designers developed into detailed construction drawings based on my design concepts. In Asia, I drew construction drawings based on American designers’ design concepts. I am still me. What changed?!
Even though Shanghai has great infrastructure, the quality of it is just very poor. The subway for instance, the design is so old fashioned and the materials look so outdated. Many platforms look very dark due to poor lighting design, the floor looks dirty and old due to the fading colors of the stone slabs. The numbers of the escalators and stair cases are not proportioned. The floor layouts and signages are confusing. Restrooms and elevators are also difficult to find. The train carts are relatively small compared to the large volumes of commuters in the city. The seats and pathways are very narrow and the light fixtures always blocked the view to the posted ads or the route maps on the trains. The design just does not exist. You can very easily tell the entire subway system was built in very hurry without any deep thinking through in terms of functionality or aesthetic. I always thought the subway system in Shanghai has been built for at least 20 years or older, but I was shocked to learn the construction for the entire subway system in Shanghai did not start until the beginning of ’00. Oh my…. I have nothing to say.
There is one thing I do not understand is while many Chinese people are trying their best to emigrate and send their kids overseas to become foreigners, many of them are still wanting Taiwanese to be Chinese. If Chinese people do not even want to be Chinese, why Taiwanese people want to be Chinese?! I am puzzled.
As an American interior designer worked in China, I know too well about the culture of copying someone else’ designs over there. You might think the designers in China who copy other people’s designs are not creative, but in fact, I have worked with many creative designers in China, so how come copying designs become so popular and it turns into the business norm for the interior design industry? Here are the reasons:
- Extremely unreasonable deadlines: People around the world all have witnessed China’s rapid economy growth in the past two decades, there was a reason for that. If you can move from one project to the next faster, it means the more money you make, to both the design firms and the clients, so the time schedules set by the clients and the design firms usually are very tight compared we do projects in the US. You can easily find a 1-year long project gets done in 5 months in China. As we all know, a quick design idea might only take few minutes to generate, but a very well thought through design concept takes time, and there is no such luxury in China to allow designers really thinking deeper, so the best way to cut the corner is to copy or tweak other people’s designs.
- Client’s requests: Unlike most of the clients I have worked with in the US who appreciated my creativity to come up with the ideas that no one else had ever thought about, the clients in China often demanded their designers to copy other people’s designs from the design magazines they read, the hotels they stayed or a store they visited. The most funny thing was one of the Chinese clients wanted me to copy a design from a design magazine and it turned out the project he wanted me to copy from was one of the projects I designed when I was working for another designer in the US.
- Lacking 3D perception: Most of the clients I worked with or the employers I worked for in the US could visualize my design ideas simply with a free-hand sketch or a little better made hand sketches for the initial design presentations, but in China, because many clients and the designers alike never had any art or design related training, they just can’t visualize the designs without seeing a super realistic 3D color rendering done by the computer program like 3D Studio Max. As everyone knows, it is very time-consuming to generate a 3D Studio Max drawing, it is just not cost-effective, especially for the initial client meetings. So, looking for reference photos on-line or on magazines and using them as part of the design presentation becomes extremely popular and cost-effective way in China to conduct the initial client meetings. If the clients like the designs in the project reference photos, the designers are forced to go along with the design concepts or details done by other designers showing in the photos which indirectly turns the interior designers into interior copiers or interior tweakers. You might ask why those designers do not use their own old project photos? well, they do! but those old projects were also copied or tweaked from other designers’ projects. Even if some creative designers in China came up with some great ideas, their designs never could be approved by their employers because their employers could not visualize the designs without a computer generated color rendering either, and no one has time to make their design concepts in 3D Studio Max just for trying to persuade their bosses to approve the designs so that they could present them to the clients, as the result, many great creative designs never even got the chance to reach the clients before being blocked by their employers. Frustrated, many designers in China start to look for reference photos for design ideas instead of creating their own.
- Excessive overtime working: Because the super fast paced work environment in China, many designers are forced to work overtime constantly, 60 or even 70 weekly working hours are very common, the fatigue and stress caused by long working hours inhibited and even further damaged the designers’ creativity.
There are so many creative individuals in China who want to create but can’t. They are frustrated, over worked, and under paid. So, instead of criticizing the designers in China for being copy cats, we should blame those few on the top who made the designers copy cats.
Chinese audiences laughed about the scenes in the movie “White House Down” showing the transferring of power with the nuclear weapon launching code from the president to vice president and to speaker of the House if the leader was dead or incapable of performing the tasks in the US. I think the Chinese people should stop laughing and think if the similar situation happened to your government, what kind of power transferring mechanism your government has in order to insure the power won’t fall into one crazy nut or fall into no one?? I think that is the lesson Chinese people can learn from this action packed movie. I give this movie a thumb up.