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Posts Tagged ‘cognitive abilities

Is Brainstorming a Waste of Time? What other alternatives You Should consider Instead?

Debra Kaye published in Entrepreneur this August 13, 2013: “Why Brainstorming is a Waste of Time and What You Should Do Instead” (with slight editing, my style)

“And then Eli thought it would be a good idea to start rhyming words, Because no one was coming up with any good ideas using free association.”my friend Rochelle told me last night on the phone

Rochelle  wasn’t bringing me up to date on re-runs of The Office. She was actually describing a brainstorming session at her company.

The leader of the group was making his team of grown ups play rhyming games as a way of coming up with fresh insights for new product development.

“He told us we were all stuck and this exercise was going to stretch and relax our minds,” she added.

I can’t vouch for the science of making rhymes, but I can tell you Eli is probably wasting his time, and you might be too if you’re spending a lot of time in brainstorming sessions with your team.

The conventional wisdom that says you can institutionalize the new idea process via formal brainstorming sessions is simply wrong.

Part of what we know about the brain makes it clear why the best new ideas don’t emerge from these kinds of groups.

First, the brain doesn’t make optimal connections in a rigid atmosphere.

In a brainstorming session, there is too much pressure from the group and its leader.

Peer pressure and the need to please with “right answers” shackles participants and lessens their ability and desire to take risks with suggestions that might cause embarrassment. Psychologists have documented the predictability of free association.

We all have the power to develop thoughts into reality. There are techniques that keep your brains working with agility, enabling new connections and fresh insights into whatever we’re working on.

Here are a few activities that are more effective at generating ideas than brainstorming:

1. Do something mindless. 
Take a walk, organize your sock drawer, draw a hot bath and soak for a while, and be sure to listen to music you like.

You can free your mind by engaging in an activity that is unchallenging enough to allow your mind to “wander.” It’s during these not-so-aimless journeys that we often formulate exciting ideas or find answers to questions that have been bugging us.

Moderate background noise enhances creativity too, so play some favorite music.

According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Consumer Research, “Moderate background noise induces distraction, which encourages individuals to think at a higher, abstract level, and consequently exhibit higher creativity.”

2. Do something hard.
Exercising your brain with challenging and interesting tasks makes it better at innovating.

Crossword puzzles and memory games may not do the trick if they aren’t difficult enough. New and challenging tasks stimulate the brain most and help to grow cognition.

Researchers at the University of Hamburg subjected 20 adults to a month of intense training in juggling, and found an increase in the gray matter, the part of the brain that processes complex ideas, as early as 7 days after the training began.

Learning a new language, challenging yourself to make a dress from a Vogue couture pattern when you’ve never sewn before, teaching yourself to play a musical instrument, studying for a difficult exam like the GMATs, or understanding and memorizing the Latin name of plants could be the gateway to your next brilliant epiphany.

3. Make time to meditate.
Innovation and new ideas are inside you, and meditation is one way to allow them to become apparent and connected.

Meditation increases your power of concentration and allows your mind to let ideas flow freely.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that people who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.

4. Sleep on it.
Recent research suggests that sleep is essential for our capacity to learn, remember and create.

Our ability to learn, think more innovatively and solve problems is actually enhanced after getting a good night’s sleep or even a very satisfying nap. German neuroscientist Ullrich Wagner did a study published in 2004, “Sleep Inspires Insight,” published in Nature, that found that deep sleep inspires insight and triggers new conceptual insights.

It makes sense. Who can really think about important issues or decisions when exhausted? Put away that work and go to bed!

5. Believe in your abilities.
In What the Best College Students Do author Dr. Ken Bain writes that the idea that intelligence is static, either you’re born smart or you aren’t, is simply not true.

Creative, successful people have something in common he discovered: they all believed that intelligence is expandable.

People who believe they can “grow” their brainpower demonstrated more curiosity and open-mindedness and took more professional and intellectual risks, and as a result became very successful adults.

Several studies have shown that when people learn they can become smarter and that their brains can become “stronger,” it actually happens, even if they do nothing else than read an article about the subject.

Those of us who believe we can improve our cognitive abilities have less of a tendency to give up when we are faced with difficult problems, like coming up with ideas.

I told my friend that next time Eli schedules a brainstorming meeting, she should call in sick on that day instead, and sleep in, then take a walk, listen to music, practice her Italian lessons, mediate and most of all, believe in her capacity and innate intelligence to solve big problems.

You should too.

Note: Debra Kaye is a brand and culture strategist and partner at Lucule, a New York-based innovation consulting firm. She is author of the book, Red Thread Thinking (McGraw-Hill,

Read more: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227797#ixzz2cXFvAW8l

Read more: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227797#ixzz2cXFgLb9n

Related

“So, you want systems to fit people?” February 21, 2005

 “So far, it sounds that Human Factors in engineering is a vast field of knowledge and it could have many applications.”  You are absolutely right, the profession is multidisciplinary.

Let us consider the problems that an excellent human factors designer has to cope with when he has to incorporate the human dimensions into his design and the body of knowledge he has to learn and incorporate in his practice:

First, there are no design drawings for people as traditional engineers are familiar with because the structure of human organisms is approximately delineated and the mechanisms are imperfectly understood.

Second, people vastly differ in anthropometric dimensions, cognitive abilities, sensory capabilities, motor abilities, personalities, and attitudes; thus the challenge of variability is different from physics where phenomena behave in countable fashions and can be accounted for in design.

Third, people change with time; they change in dimensions, abilities and skills as well as from moment to moment attributable to boredom, fatigue, lapse of attention, interactions among people and with the environment.

Fourth, the world is constantly changing and systems are changing accordingly; thus interfaces for designing jobs, operations and environment have to be revisited frequently.

Fifth, contrary to the perception of people regarding the other traditional engineering fields, when we deal with human capabilities, limitations and behavior everyone feels is an expert on the basis of common sense acquired from living and specific experiences and we tend to generalize our feelings to all kinds of human behaviors. For examples, we think that we have convictions concerning the effects of sleep, dreams, age, and fatigue; we believe that we are rather good judges of people’s motives, we have explanations for people’s good memories and abilities, and we have strong positions on the relative influence of nature and nurture in shaping people’s behavior.  Consequently, the expertise of human factors professionals are not viewed as based on science.

To be a competent ergonomics expert you need to take courses in many departments like Psychology, Physiology, Neurology, Marketing, Economy, Business, Management, and of course engineering.

You need to learn applied statistics, system’s modeling (mathematical and prototyping), the design of experiments, writing and validating questionnaires, collecting data on human performance, analyzing and interpreting data on the interactions of human with systems.

You need updating you knowledge continuously with all kinds of systems’ deficiencies that often hurt people in their daily lives, and learn the newer laws that govern the safety and health of the employees in their workplace. 

All the above courses and disciplines that you are urged to take or to be conversant with have the well being of targeted end users in mind.  To be an expert well qualified designer you need to assimilate the physical and cognitive abilities of end users and what they are capable of doing best; you need to discover their limitations as well so that you may reduce errors and foreseeable misuses of any product or interface that you have the responsibility to design. 

You need to fit the product or interface to the users and avoid lengthy training or useless stretching of the human body in order to permit the users to efficiently manipulate your design.  An excellent designer has to know the advantages and limitations of the five senses and how to facilitate the interaction with systems under minimal stress, errors committed, and health complications generated from prolonged usage and repetitive movements of parts of the body.

I am glad, my newly found friend, that you are attentively listening to my lucubration.

I would like it better if you ask me questions that prove to me that you are enthusiastic.

Could you enumerate a few incidents in your life that validate the importance of this field of study?

“Well, suppose that I enroll in that all encompassing specialty, are there any esoteric and malignant courses that are impressed upon me?”

Unfortunately, as any university major and engineering included, many of the courses are discovered to be utterly useless once you find a job.

However, you have to bear the cross for 4 years in order to be awarded a miserly diploma. This diploma, strong with a string of grade of “A’s” will open the horizon for a new life, a life of a different set of worries and unhappiness.

I can tell you for sure that it is not how interesting are the courses but the discipline that you acquired in the process. 

You need to start enjoying reading, every day for at least 5 hours, taking good care for the details in collecting data or measuring anything, learning to write everyday, meticulously and stubbornly, not missing a single course or session, giving your full concentration during class, taking notes and then reading your notes afterwards, coordinating the activities of your study groups, being a leader and a catalyst for all your class associates.

You need to waking up full of zest and partying hard after a good week of work and study, staying away, like the plague, from those exorbitantly expensive restaurants and dancing bars because they are the haven of all those boring, mindless and useless people who are dependent completely on their parents.

Well, you will hear, frequently, that securing a University diploma is a testing ground for your endurance to accepting all kinds of nonsense.  It is.

Most importantly, it is testing the endurance of your folks who are paying dearly for that nonsense.

Article# 40, April 2nd, 2006

 “Experimentation: natural sciences versus people’s behavior sciences”

This article is intended to compare the kind of controlled experiments that are applied by scientists in physical natural phenomena and those developed by scientists dealing with the behavior of people or employing human participants in the experiments.

Although the physical sciences such as all the branches in physics and chemistry used controlled experimentations long time ago to develop the huge body of knowledge on the natural phenomena, it was the social and psychological sciences that tried to develop the appropriate and complex statistical modeling packages in order to study the more complex and more varied human behaviors.  It appears that the restricted and countable number of variables in studying the physical nature and their relative lack of variability with time did not encourage the physical scientists to contemplate sophisticated statistical models for their controlled experiments or even to teaching the design of experiments in the engineering curriculum. 

Before we expand on the variability of human behaviors it might be more appropriate to analyze the most critical difference in the two sciences. Knowing that any concept is synonymous with the corresponding necessary set of operations in order to be able to measure it scientifically in experiments we can understand the big leap forward of the body of knowledge in natural sciences compared to the social and psychological sciences.  Whereas the physical scientists can define the concepts of force, moment, power and the like through the relationships of measurable variables based on length, time, and mass the scientists investigating human behaviors have to surmount that hurdle before seriously contemplating to measure human concepts.  Human behavior and the cognitive concepts of attitudes, mental abilities, and moods, problem solving mechanisms, perception, and the like cannot be measured scientifically until sets of operations are agreed on for each one of these concepts through the study of human activities or the things that people do while performing a valid task or a set of purposeful tasks.  For example, saying that color blindness is a deficiency that confuses colors will not cut it; what is needed are a set of instances that could define this illness such as what exactly are the colors of the spectrum with mixtures of two primary colors can a protanope (color blind individual) match that are different from normal people, he will confuse a blue-green color with white or gray, will confuse red, orange, yellow, yellow-green, and green when suitable brightness and saturations of these colors are used, and has reduced visibility in the red end of the spectrum.

Two decades ago the air force in the USA contracted out groups of psychologists and human factors professionals to specifically establish a set of operations that could be submitted to potential airplane fighters to measure and evaluate their capabilities for the mental and perception workload needed for the job. This set of ten or twelve operations measuring short term memory capacity, reaction times, computational abilities, attention span, and types of errors committed in each operation is the kind of hurdles that the study of human behavior have to surmount.

The operationism of a single human concept may be a life project for a group of scientists that require secure and continuing funding from concerned parties who have vested interests in thorough study of the concept.  It is obvious that limited human concepts will enjoy deeper and more complete investigations than others.

May be because the physical scientists did not face the problems of establishing sets of operations that the method of controlled experimentations was not deemed essential enough to rigorously teach in high school programs and ultimately failed to initiate the students to the experimental methods; until recently when social sciences made significant in roads into the educational programs.  This lack of early initiation of students to experimental methodology might also be the main reason why rational thinking and the experimental mind is not that widespread throughout all societies and are just confined to the privileged who could afford higher educations at select universities.

Whereas physical scientists rely on equipments to objectively observe and measure, the more the equipments are precise the more accurate are the data; scientists of human behavior have to rely on people’s responses and observations.  It has been proven that man is not a good observer of complex events; even when viewers are forewarned that they are to see a movie about a crime and that that are to answer questions about details later the accuracy of the observers are very low. 

Man is unable to be an objective recorder of the events that transpire because he gets involved in the scene actions.  Man has a very narrow range of attention and barely can satisfactorily attend to a couple of stimuli. This observation deficiency is compounded by our sensory differences and illusions; for example, one in sixteen is color blind, many suffer from tone deafness, taste blindness and so on.

Man does not think of himself objectively but rather has convictions, feelings, and explanations based on very restricted experiences, hearsays, memories and he tends to generalize and develop a set of beliefs concerning the operation of the mind.  Man usually expects to see and then see what he wants to see and hardly deviates from his beliefs and sometimes even when faced with facts.  For example, many scientists have overlooked obvious data because they clanged to their hypotheses and theories.  Man has to generate an abundance of reliable information and assimilate them before he could eliminate a few systematic biases that he acquired from previous generations and his personal experiences.  Consequently, experimenting with people is more complex and more difficult than the physical scientists or engineers have to cope with.

First, there are no design drawings for people’s mind and behavior as engineers are familiar with because the structure of human organisms is approximately delineated and the mechanisms are imperfectly understood.

Second, people vastly differ in anthropometric dimensions, cognitive abilities, sensory capabilities, motor abilities, personalities, and attitudes.  Thus, the challenge of variability is different from physics where phenomena behave in stable fashions, are countable, and can be controlled with minimal management. 

Third, people change with time; they change in dimensions, abilities and skills as well as from moment to moment attributable to boredom, fatigue, lapse of attention, interactions among people and with the environment.  People deficiencies in senses, physical abilities and cognitive capabilities changes with time and thus, the techniques of selecting subjects have to account for the differences in age, gender, specific deficiencies, training, educational levels, communication skills, and incentives to participate in an experiment.

Fourth, the world is constantly changing and systems used by people are changing accordingly.  Thus, interfaces for designing jobs, operations and environment have to be revisited frequently to account for new behavior and trends.

Fifth, everyone feels is an expert about human behavior on the basis of common sense acquired from life and specific experiences and we tend to generalize our feelings to all kinds of human behaviors but not so expert in the fundamentals of natural sciences such as physics or chemistry.  We think that we have convictions concerning the effects of sleep, dreams, age, and fatigue; we believe that we are rather good judges of people’s motives, we have explanations for people’s good memories and abilities, and we have strong positions on the relative influence of nature and nurture in shaping people’s behavior.  Consequently, the expertise of psychologists and human factors professionals are not viewed as based on science.

Six, physical scientists may enjoy the possibility of “testing to destruction” of prototypes or the materials under study, a luxury that experiments on people forbid or are impossible to do outside the safety range allowed by moral standards, laws, and regulations.  Research on people has to circumvent this major difficulty by using dummies, animals, or willing subjects thoroughly aware and educated to the dangers of the procedures.

Seventh, research on people is regulated by privacy laws and concepts such as consciousness, mental images, fatigue, and motives are highly personal experiences and not open to public inspection while science must be a public affair and repeatable by other researchers. 


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