The Ideation Flexibility project aims to expand the flexibility of idea generation in engineers so that they have a variety of ways to approach problems. The lab looks at three interventions and how they affect ideation. The interventions are as follows:
• Design heuristics: broad concepts used by expert designers in exploring the solution space.
• Framing: changing how the problem is stated to change its interpretation.
• Teaming: putting the engineers in teams (including dyads).
The lab is working on creating materials and guides to help both engineers and those educating engineers. Since ideation is the first step in the design process, the ability to approach a problem in the most effective way will likely reduce the amount of time wasted in the process, making the entire design process more cost and time effective.
The lab’s work is based on Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation theory, which states that people lie on a spectrum of cognitive preference for problem solving (including ideation) that ranges from strongly Adaptive to strongly Innovative. Those who are more Adaptive prefer to solve problems using more structure, which may manifest by thinking in a stepwise fashion. Those who are more Innovative prefer to solve problems using less structure, which may manifest by thinking tangentially. This cognitive preference – called cognitive style – can be reliably assessed using the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory or KAI. The KAI total score is also divided into three sub-scores: Sufficiency of Originality (SO), Efficiency (E), and Rule/Group Conformity (R/G).
The lab asked pre-engineering students (senior year of high school) to sophomore engineers in college to generate ideas within 30 minutes to solve specific problems both with and without the three interventions; the “no intervention” condition is referred to as “neutral ideation”. Students recorded their design ideas using both sketches and verbal (written) descriptions. The three interventions were applied separately so that they could then be compared against neutral ideation in order to determine how the interventions affect ideation. Various other data were collected from the students, including age, race, gender, and KAI scores (i.e., cognitive style).
The ideas were coded based on Quality metrics found in the literature. Quality is defined as an overall measure of how well an idea relates to and solves a problem, as well as how effectively it is communicated and how easily it can be implemented. Quality is then subdivided into three other metrics: Relevance, Workability, and Specificity. Those metrics are then further subdivided into Effectiveness and Applicability, Implementability and Acceptability, and Clarity and Implicational Explicitness, respectively. The students were also asked to reflect on each ideation activity to obtain data on their perceptions of their ideation under each experimental condition (neutral ideation and the three interventions).
The purpose of this particular study was to attempt to model cognitive style based on these Quality metrics, as well as any relevant demographic data. The aim is to have a predictive model of cognitive style based on neutral ideation, which can then be used with data collected from the intervention sessions to determine whether any of the interventions have had an effect on an individual’s ideation. In other words, do the interventions affect how adaptive or innovative an individual’s ideation has become? This will give an effective measure of Ideation Flexibility. By gaining this insight into how the different interventions affect ideation, a better approach to ideation can be created.
Both linear and nonlinear relationships between cognitive style (KAI) and the Quality metrics were explored. Preliminary results show that creating linear models using other factors, such as race or age, may create viable models; however, these relationships will require further research for confirmation. In addition, averaging the metrics and looking at Quantity as well as Quality metrics may also yield better results. In the end, although the regressions did not predict cognitive style (KAI scores) well enough to be used reliably, this paper will report on several interesting findings that may shed light on how cognitive style and ideation are related.
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