Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Quantity Breeds Quality When it Comes to Creativity

Quantity breeds quality. I have referred to this axiom in the two previous posts. But how can this be? Surely this type of thought defies common sense. We live in a quality focused world.[1] For example, in academia students are punished for wrong answers, but they are not rewarded for overall successful attempts.[2] Counter-intuitive as it seems, studies have now replicated results to support the notion that the likelihood of having a great idea is directly related to the total number of ideas you think of.

Researcher Alfredo Adánez found that “as the production of ideas increases, there is more likelihood of more quality ideas appearing.”[3] In his study, groups that produced more ideas in response to their prompt had a higher number of “quality” ideas as rated by an independent panel of experts.[4]
Ok. So groups that can produce a higher amount of ideas also have a higher amount of “quality” ideas than compared to groups who produced a lower amount of ideas. Is this an effect inherent to these super-groups? Or can merely attempting to produce a high quantity of ideas automatically lead any person to higher quality ideas as well? A similar study by Paul Paulus answered this question in the affirmative.[5] His study showed that merely instructing group members to focus on quantity as opposed to quality produce both more ideas and more good ideas. 

What are the reasons for this effect? There are a few untested explanations. One is that more common, stereotypical ideas are first accessed when brainstorming.[6] It isn’t until we exhaust the common ideas that we start to access the abstract and creative ones.[7]
Whatever the reason may be, the message stands. We should focus on brainwriting as many ideas as we can think. During a brainstorming session judgments and criticism should be withheld. Instead, the focus should be on the process of generating ideas. Once you have exhausted all possible options then you can refocus and judge the ideas based on their quality.

[1] Alfredo Muñoz Adánez, Does Quantity Generate Quality? Testing the Fundamental Principle of Brainstorming, The Spanish Journal of Psychology Vol. 8 No. 2 (2005), 216.
[2] Id.
[3] Id. 218.
[4] Id.
[5] See Generally, Paul B. Paulus, Nicholas W. Kohn, and Lauren E. Arditti, Effects of Quantity and Quality Instructions on Brainstorming, The Journal of Creative Behavior (2011).
[6] See Adánez, supra note 1, 218.
[7] Id.

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