Brainstorming on Guns: How effective has it been?

The other day I was watching President Trump having a brainstorming session with those affected by the Florida shooting. Now, if you are remotely connected to the United States, in any shape or form, then you would most likely be aware of the Florida shooting. The “gun debate” has been ongoing in mainstream media and even social media for some time now. However, it has intensified in the past month as a result of the unfortunate shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman high school in Parkland, Florida on the 14th of February, 2018. Following that incident, the president invited those that were affected by the shooting to the white house (such as students, parents, teachers, and school administrators) for a brainstorming session on the way forward. While it might be considered as a good move by the president, at least politically, however, knowing what I now know about brainstorming in teams, I would think it was a bad move.

To start with, studies have shown that brainstorming generates fewer ideas than individuals would generate alone. This is because there is a convergence of ideas during brainstorming. Moreover, this is more pronounced in situations where there is a clear power inequity. This is because powerful people possess dominant voices that usually drown out the voices of the less powerful. In such cases, brainstorming has the potential to stifle ideas as opposed to generating them (Franz, 2012).  In this case, for example, the president who is obviously more powerful than the rest of the people in the meeting on that day had a very clear idea of how to solve the gun problem. His solution – enforce strong background checks and allow teachers carry concealed weapons. While I watched the session, I realized that although others gave their ideas, the president’s ideas seem to dominate. In fact, I could hardly see any high school student coming up with an idea, with the exception of one, who advised the government to prevent kids under the age of 21 from buying assault weapons. I could tell they were scared to talk to the president. However, had it been a brainwriting session, then students would have been able to write down their ideas. Moreover, the brainstorming session yielded very few ideas, partly because of the fact that the those in attendance knew the president’s stance on the matter and did not want to be seen as disagreeing with the president. There were roughly 3 ideas generated on the day. This is very low, considering the fact that there were about 40 people in the room. However,

knowing what I know now (thanks to the LDRS 5544 class), I would think that other less popular methods such as brainwriting and nominal group techniques (NGT) would have been more effective. These methods would have decentered the power structure, students would have been able to write down their ideas (in case of brainwriting), be in smaller groups (as in NGT) and prioritize resulting ideas. This would have resulted in more creative ideas and had the president done this, we might be closer to solving the gun problem than we currently are (assuming idea generation is what is really important).

Going forward, I hope to suggest methods such as brain writing and NLT in my team projects. As a Ph.D. student, I have been in project teams where I had decided to shut up just because another team member was louder than I was. Using these other methods would have helped me to contribute my ideas as well, which in turn would have generated more creative ideas for the team. Moreover, as someone interested in working with youth, there would always be a power imbalance as I am going to have more power than them, despite my efforts otherwise. Therefore, these other creative methods such as brain writing and NLT would come in handy whenever I need their inputs.




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