The Effects of Problem Structure and Team Diversity on Brainstorming Effectiveness

S. Kavadias, S. SOMMER

Management Science

December 2009, n°12, pp.1899-1913

Departments: Information Systems and Operations Management

Keywords: brainstorming process ; new product development team ; ideation ; complexity

Since Osborn's Applied Imagination book in 1953 (Osborn, A. F. 1953. Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Thinking. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York), the effectiveness of brainstorming has been widely debated. While some researchers and practitioners consider it the standard idea generation and problem-solving method in organizations, part of the social science literature has argued in favor of nominal groups, i.e., the same number of individuals generating solutions in isolation. In this paper, we revisit this debate, and we explore the implications that the underlying problem structure and the team diversity have on the quality of the best solution as obtained by the different group configurations. We build on the normative search literature of new product development, and we show that no group configuration dominates. Therefore, nominal groups perform better in specialized problems, even when the factors that affect the solution quality exhibit complex interactions (problem complexity). In cross-functional problems, the brainstorming group exploits the competence diversity of its participants to attain better solutions. However, their advantage vanishes for extremely complex problems.