Reflection 8 – Spencer Jenkins

The paper under discussion for this session was “From Diversity to Creativity: Stimulating Group Brainstorming with Cultural Differences and Conversationally-Retrieved Pictures,” a 2011 work from Wang et al. at Cornell University. As the title suggests, this paper was interested in investigating the process of group brainstorming. One of the main goals of brainstorming is to create a large number of diverse ideas. The researchers applied two different methods to enable this. 

One idea was to increase the diversity across cultures within the group performing the brainstorming. In this study, the brainstorming was performed in groups of 2. Thus, the researchers studied the performance of groups consisting of the following pairings: two American participants, two Chinese participants, and an American participant paired with a Chinese participant. The other idea was to provoke ideas by having a third party supply relevant pictures during the brainstorming discussion. These pictures would be chosen based on relevance to the ongoing discussion, with the goal of provoking new and diverse ideas in the conversation. The authors tested the productivity and breadth of ideas produced during the brainstorming, applying each of the two ideas separately and then together. 

Interestingly, the authors found that there was no significant increase in the breadth of ideas produced between intercultural and intracultural group compositions. Additionally, intercultural group productivity was not significantly greater than that of intracultural groups. Overall, this is not particularly surprising to me. While there is the potential for an increased wealth of experiences and viewpoints within intercultural groups, there are also obstacles to communication that can be introduced.

What the authors did find, however, was that the introduction of pictures to the brainstorming session did increase productivity in intercultural groups. Additionally, if the pictures were chosen for their stimulation ability (i.e., ability to provoke rare or multiple ideas), they also increased the breadth of ideas produced. 

Though the overall study is interesting, I’m a little worried with the way breadth of ideas is determined. The researchers do this by measuring the average semantic distance between ideas developed in the brainstorming process. To do this, they took a previously created word association database and mapped words to a latent vector space. They then calculate distance metrics in this space. Earlier in the paper, however, the authors mention that different cultures potentially have differences in their semantic networks. I am curious if this potential diversity is reflected in the semantic database from which the latent vectors are derived.