Group Dynamics, Ideating, and Brainstorming

PUBLISHED: Dec 11, 2019

In This Episode.

How do you clear tens of thousands of people from a region of Wyoming without them knowing the real reason?  Listen to how they did it in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and learn about the value of competitive vs. collaborative environments for group decision making and ideating.

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Podcast Transcript

Voiceover: They’re here to do two things chew bubble gum and make you smarter, and they’re all out of bubblegum Smarter with Dave and Steve.

Steve Pearlman: Today’s podcast is about a fancy term called Ideating, which is basically the process by which we come up with an idea. And we’re focusing today not on every aspect of dating, which obviously wouldn’t be possible in a short podcast like this, but on the social factors, the communal factors that affect idea creation and how we are affected by the people around us when we’re trying to be creative.

Dave Carillo: And one of the ways that you might see ideation make its way into your life are in the kinds of social settings, often in the workplace or elsewhere where you participate in a brainstorming session and multiple folks get together and talk out what their ideas are and how the group should proceed. And it makes us think of the scene from the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where they’re classic movie. When they’re trying to figure out how to scare all the folks out of the state of Wyoming in order to meet the aliens all on their own.

Steve Pearlman: Wyoming perhaps aptly chosen because not as many people there say if they had to scare everyone out of New

Dave Carillo: York, although the aliens chose it. So maybe the aliens didn’t want to be.

Steve Pearlman: I don’t know. Aliens are wise, especially Spielberg and aliens.

Dave Carillo: They generally tend to be a lot smarter than other aliens that we see a lot more peaceful and wanting to meet a historical geographical landmark.

Steve Pearlman: Much unlike Ridley Scott in aliens who are invariably out to gestate their offspring inside your

Dave Carillo: Body right now. Look, let’s be honest, Xenomorphs did display all sorts of intelligence,

Steve Pearlman: But their musical abilities, they really were lacking relative to the aliens and doesn’t count anyway. So today’s scene we’re going to pick up with the group of American scientists and military personnel who are trying to figure out how they can get everyone out of Wyoming because they don’t want anyone there when the aliens come to town. But we want you to pay attention to how the social dynamics affect the overall decision. Who puts out an idea? Who shoots down an idea? It’s not the most comprehensive example of group dynamics and ideas, but it will certainly give you something to think about.

Dave Carillo: It’s brainstorming. I still like the flash

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Flood, either. What are you going to get the water? You got about two inches of rain in the last 16. Do a survey of dams and reservoirs and tell them what’s going to burst. Besides that, there’s no water, no contaminated water, mixed people, crop disease, no epidemic. In essence, what kind of disease plague the plague epidemic? Nobody’s going to believe a plague in this day and age. Anthrax ranching country? Yes, there are a lot of sheep up on those hills. Wait a minute. That’s good. That’s good. I like that. You create a panic, but it may not evacuate everybody. There’s always some joker who thinks he’s immune. What I need is something so scary, it’ll clear 300 square miles of every living Christian,

Steve Pearlman: So two things I like about that. First of all, I like how anthrax isn’t sufficient, that they’re worried about the idiots who won’t be concerned about anthrax. That’s not scary enough. Yeah. And the second thing I like is how they’re only worried about clearing the Christian souls.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, I always found that to be a funny line, because I guess the assumption there is there are going to be no other souls in Wyoming whatsoever.

Steve Pearlman: Or they just don’t care about them.

Dave Carillo: Well, you know,

Steve Pearlman: Buddhists

Dave Carillo: Dead. Maybe they have hyper accurate soul data on Wyoming. They know exactly what kind of souls are where in that state it is. Devil’s Tower. I don’t know if

Steve Pearlman: The I guess there would be a lot of Satanists.

Dave Carillo: Well, we don’t have that scene is is that they settle on a train derailment and the cover story that amongst the cars that were derailed were a couple tankers filled with some sort of hyper lethal, hyper secret nerve agent of some sort that the government was transporting from one military base to another.

Steve Pearlman: And here I’m tempted to say something incredibly stupid, which would be the government couldn’t be stupid enough to load up tanker cars filled with deadly nerve agent. But yet I’m not really persuaded that that’s a viable

Dave Carillo: Argument, whether or not it’s stupidity. I mean, I just don’t think that there’s really any other way to transport it, right? In fact, to be honest. Maybe they had something there with this cover story because I would be much more concerned if they decided to put it into airplanes.

Steve Pearlman: Well, I would just hope they would transport it in smaller quantities rather than by the tanker.

Dave Carillo: Do you want to get a lot of nerve agent from one place to another? The best way to do it is, you know, tanker.

Steve Pearlman: Let’s make sure we’re transporting enough nerve agent at one time to kill everyone.

Dave Carillo: So anyhow, that scene is our way of getting at this fancy term called social cognitive context. And the idea there is that the more we’re aware of the kinds of elements that go into creating and refining and developing ideas, the better ideas we can actually develop. The Root article is entitled Minding the Gap Between Generation and Implementation Effects of Idea, Source Goal and Climate on Selecting and refining creative ideas. It’s a study that was conducted just recently and published in the journal entitled Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. In short, what this study was looking at was what kinds of elements most influenced the generation evaluation and eventual acceptance of ideas.

Steve Pearlman: In this particular study, they’re studying the effect of group dynamics, and what they’re particularly exploring is the question of whether being in what they call the competitive environment is more constructive for creativity or being in a collaborative environment is more constructive. So in other words, is it better if everyone’s competing to find the most competitive idea your group is competing against another or everyone’s on their own to find that most creative idea and push themselves to new levels? Or is it better where everyone is supportive of ideas and working together to further the ideas that group members start to put forward? One of the things that’s important to note is that there’s a lot of research, and they reference one or two sources here as well. That makes it pretty clear that when it comes to judging how feasible creative ideas might be, we are much better at judging other people’s ideas and more accurate in judging the feasibility of other people’s ideas than we are in judging the feasibility of our own. That’s not to say we’re always wrong about our own ideas, but is to say in the aggregate that we are more effective at judging others. And that’s very important for this particular podcast because we want you to think about the fact that you can be a great sounding board for someone else’s ideas and you need other people to be sounding boards for your ideas. So the question becomes What’s the social cognitive context? There’s that big term again, where idea becomes most successful for you and for your group members,

Dave Carillo: And this becomes an important issue. Figuring out what the best context for this kind of work is because there are a lot of variables that go into idea generation and selection and refinement and development in terms of figuring out how best to develop, refine and choose ideas. We have to think about the characteristics of the ideas themselves. How risky are they perceived, how complex they are? We have to think about the teams and the project teams. We’re working with the decision making styles, creative capabilities, expertise of those we’re working, the project environment. The goal is the resources, the organizational culture. All of these have the potential of this study saying to affect how we’re developing and choosing ideas, and we aren’t always aware of all of these kinds of elements all at once.

Steve Pearlman: The general experiment was this they took some students and they put them in teams and they had to quote, develop an advertising campaign to help a fictional clothing company expand into a new market end quote. And then they had either explicit references to being in a competitive environment in the. Actions or explicit references to being in a collaborative work environment in the competitive climate, participants were told that the CEO largely credits the success of Seamus thus far to its sink or swim competitive culture. Employees that produce at the highest levels are rewarded for their efforts. On the other hand, those that fail to demonstrate the value of their individual contributions rarely stay long. In contrast, participants in the collaborative conditions were told that quote. The CEO largely credits the success of Charalambous thus far to its friendly, team based collaborative culture. Employees tend to share credit with one another for their successes, as well as share responsibility for mistakes. So some people were given competitive based prompts for this exercise, and some people were given collaboration based prompts for this exercise.

Dave Carillo: And the first of their findings that we want to share with you is that there were students tasked with developing their own initial list of ideas before working with a team or not, and the students that develop their own ideas first, should a greater ability to help refine, develop and strengthen the idea that their teammates came up with. In other words, the teams were each individual brought their own ideas to the table, ended up with a greater ability to refine and develop those ideas to success. So even if you’re not necessarily on the hook for an initial list of ideas in your own situation, it definitely seems to help you become a sounding board for your colleagues.

Steve Pearlman: The second major finding if you’re wondering whether it’s better to be in a competitive environment or a collaborative environment, and this goes along with a lot of other research that’s been done on this, it’s much better to be in a collaborative environment with respect to ideas than to be in a competitive one. Knowledge hoarding where everybody is in their own silo and competing for recognition ultimately undermines the eventual goal of having the more creative and functional ideas moving forward. What’s much more successful is to put people in a collaborative environment where they’re supportive of each other. They’re furthering each other’s ideas. They’re working together to get the best idea, especially once they’ve all developed their own individual ones first before coming to the table collectively. And they write, participants produced the most creative campaigns, i.e. highest quality, originality and elegance. When asked to focus on the originality of their own ideas in a collaborative climate. In contrast, when participants were asked to focus on the originality of self generate ideas in a competitive climate, creativity suffered. And this is because of a number of factors, one of which is something called psychological safety. People have to feel safe to put ideas forward. So when it comes to these kinds of creative endeavors, we want to squelch competition and foster creativity, and that can refer to anything from a work environment where you need to be collaborative about something to parenting with your partner and need to figure out what you’re going to do with respect to your child.

Dave Carillo: If you are trying to clear out three hundred square miles of ranching country so you can meet with aliens privately rather than in a more crowded situation, so the wicked thinking exercise we have for you today comes in two parts one, if you’re on a team, you’re faced with some sort of wicked problem, even if you’re not responsible for the initial brainstorming or the initial list of potential solutions. Go ahead and develop one anyhow, because it’ll help you become a more effective sounding board when you do meet as a team

Steve Pearlman: And to if you have an opportunity to create a competitive environment or a collaborative one, create a collaborative one. Secondly, look around and see people you could bring in to develop a collaborative structure, even if it’s not a formal team, because collaborating with people will ultimately advance your cause a little bit more. And this could even be somewhat informal, where you might be individually tasked with coming up with an idea or a solution to something. And you might just grab a couple of people at the water cooler. You might go to a couple of different people you know individually and bounce some ideas off them and say, Hey, work with me on this for a second. Let me know what you think. So find those ways to be a good collaborator for others and find those opportunities, even if you’re not in that explicit construct to find people who will collaborate with you.


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