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Friday, April 25, 2014

How Groups Can Foster or Thwart New Product Idea Formation



Groups working together can be an enhancement to problem solving. This problem solving can be put to good use in developing products and services. Perpetually developing and advancing products and services help to develop market penetration, revenue generation, and greater opportunities. A paper by Nijstad & Stroebe (2006) delves into the idea generation process and how associated memory highlights categories  that lead to problem resolution. 

The idea generation process is the first step in finding solutions. According to Raaijmaker and Shiffrin’s people search their associative memory (SAM) to find new ideas (1981). They search through their memory creating a flow of thought whereby ideas and concepts spring forth by connecting various concepts, breaking them apart and generating concepts. 

Maintaining the free flowing stream of consciousness is important. Ideas should a.) be focused on quantity versus quality, b) seek unusual ideas, c) combination and improvement of ideas, d) not incorporate criticism of any idea (Osborn, 1953). It is important to simply gather and collect these ideas without judging them or creating social pressure to accept particular ideas. 

Our memories work a lot like categories and nodes. When nodes are activated in working memory this activation spreads to other connecting nodes creating multiple areas of connection (Collins & Loftus, 1975).  These nodes work within semantic networks. When a semantic network is activated a string of nodes with various concepts are brought forth (Brown et. al. 1998). Crossing categories of networks creates profound new knowledge. 

When problems arise we generally use an activation loop (long-term memory loop) and idea generation loop (working memory) to find a solution.  The working memory adjusts, moves, connects, disconnects and generally manipulates the information that was once stored in long-term memory (Baddeley, 1996) to produce new ideas. The larger a person’s working memory and general intelligence the more information they can manipulate at once. 

So how does idea generation work or falter in groups? An idea can cue new semantic networks that help to create new associations among members. The more people who dig through their long-term memory and spurt forward new connections in their working memory the more collective knowledge gained. When cues from the environment block new ideas from coming forward through criticism the type of new ideas are limited. It becomes more likely that only those ideas that confirm existing knowledge are shared. The result is that novel problem solving never makes its way into the conclusion. Market potential is lost when only pre-existing knowledge is rehashed for use. 

Baddeley, A. D. (1986). Working memory. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Brown, V., et. al.  (1998). Modeling cognitive interactions during group brainstorming. Small Group Research, 29, 495–526.

Collins, A. M., & Loftus, E. F. (1975). A spreading-activation theory of semantic processing. Psychological Review, 82, 407–428.

Osborn, A. F. (1953). Applied imagination. New York: Scribner’s.

Nijstad, B. & Stroebe, W.(2006).  How the Group Affects the Mind: A Cognitive Model of Idea Generation in Groups. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10 (3). 

Raaijmakers, J. G. W., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1981). Search of associative memory. Psychological Review, 88, 93–134.

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