Brainstorming, though long the favoured method for the creation of ideas, may be bowing out of fashion. Those in the know are not surprised – the problems with it are many. What you should be doing instead is brainwriting.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly of all, other methods of ideation simply produce ideas at a far greater volume that brainstorming does. One such method is brainwriting.
What is Brainwriting?
Brainwriting was popularised in Germany in the 1970s. Many experts swear by it, and it’s not hard to see why. Brainwriting provides numerous advantages over brainstorming and either entirely avoids or at least ameliorates the issues mentioned above.
The general idea is that an individual’s mind is put to work in a group context with a view to getting the best of both worlds. Rather than a collection of people shouting out ideas as the come to mind, each member of the group is given a piece of paper and a pencil. Their problem or question is called out by the supervisor or written at the top of the page, and the employee proceeds to write down their ideas.
These ideas are then shared, built on, categorised, and discussed in ways and in an order depending on the particular method of brainstorming chosen. Below are a few of the most popular.
Types of Brainwriting
6-3-5 – The 6-3-5 method involves writing down ideas in response to a question or problem posed, passing those ideas to the person on your right, and adding ideas to the sheet of the person on the left (which has just been passed to you); the process goes on in five-minute rounds until the sheets reach their original owner. ‘6-3-5’ stands for six people per group, three ideas per round, five minutes per round. The basic idea is that each person gets to utilise their own creativity while at the same time benefiting from the input of the group. As the sheets go from person to person, participants can add to the ideas of other people in the group, alter those ideas, or even use them as inspiration for yet further creativity.
Pool Method – In the pool method, groups of 5-8 people are given sheets with the problem written on top. Once you’ve written three ideas on a sheet, you place that sheet in the middle of the table and take another sheet. The process continues for a set period of time decided upon by the supervisor.
Electronic Method – This is simply the same principle but done online rather than in a room. The supervisor either sends around question sheets or posts the questions on a website, and the brainwriting principles are then utilised online. The obvious benefits here are efficiency and time-saving.
Benefits of Brainwriting
Why engage in brainwriting? One reason to do so lies in its avoiding the pitfalls that so often come with brainstorming. First, and most obviously, when a group of people are asked to shout out ideas, quiet individuals are less likely to speak up. Their creative input is lost. This undoubtedly leads to inferior quality through exclusion of voices. Second, brainstorming frequently results in the clashing of personalities as participants clamour to have their ideas heard and accepted. And although it is true that some competition is healthy, such conflict is frequently to the detriment of the project’s overall goal. Third, though ideas that might appear unusual or even eccentric are in general encouraged – this is considered to be one of the virtues of brainstorming – employees often tend to keep radical ideas to themselves for fear that others will think less of them. This “evaluation apprehension” cuts at the very essence of brainstorming: the targeted creation of new ideas is compromised by features of the brainstorming process.
Quiet members of the group are far better positioned to give their best, and the project benefits as a result. Clashing of personalities, though certainly possible (especially in the later assessment stage) becomes less likely. And, since participants contributions are anonymous and private, evaluation apprehension is no longer a worry. Further, since ideas are written down, there’s no danger employees will lose their train of thought while a colleague is speaking.
Most of all, however, brainwriting is superior to brainstorming due to its superior ability to generate a very large number of ideas. Ultimately, 100 ideas are better than 50 ideas – it’s that simple. For instance, the 6-3-5 method can generate over 100 ideas in 30 minutes. That’s a remarkable output that traditional brainstorming could never achieve. The more ideas you have – other things being equal – the more likely it is that one of them will be a winner.
Is Brainwriting For You?
Undeniably there are certain situations in which you may wish to opt for brainstorming over brainwriting. For instance, in those cases where the content seems so complicated that participants’ capacity to put their ideas into words is in doubt, or where the supervisor wishes to build a team spirit through the more vocal means of brainstorming.
But the benefits of brainwriting in almost every case are apparent. The superior generation of ideas in less time combined with the lower likelihood of issues within the group constitute compelling reasons to favour brainwriting.