The computer has the potential for releasing human creativity on a scale never dreamt of before. One of the infant steps forward in this area is the facilitation of group interactions in meetings and via electronic brainstorming. One of the pioneers is Jay F Nunamaker Jr, head of management information systems at the University of Arizona, who developed a PC-based brainstorming system using 24 PCs in a single conference room. He believes that a big advance in many different kinds of computer-based creativity enhancements is on the horizon.
'The thing I consider the most important is the role of information system model-building, and prototyping, as a medium for creativity and play,' says Michael Schragge, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 'With jazz prototyping you can come up with models just the same way as a good jazz pianist might play with a melody: with tools like Visual Basic it's not that hard.' With management consultants McKinsey, he is developing new free-form prototyping for the firm's internal use.
There are dozens of software packages for individual creativity boosting. 'The critical feature of these idea - generators is their ability to help the user break out of old thinking patterns and generate alternative solutions,' says Rover J Thierauf, author of Creative Computer Software for Strategic Thinking and Decision Making.Thierauf, professor of information and decision sciences at Xavier University in Cincinnati, especially likes 'consultant' by ODS Inc. (Des Plaines, Illinois), a Macintosh-based program designed to help knowledge workers think more productively; The Innovator, by Wilson Learning Corp. (New York), a decision support system for an organisation facing change; and Idea Fisher 4.0 by Fisher Idea Systems, which uses free association, memory retrieval, analogical and metaphorical reasoning. This last program, says Thierauf, 'uses off-the-wall ideas and makes wild suggestions that you never thought of before. It takes off your blinders - that's what I like about it.'.