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Brainstorming on Steroids

Brainwriting is a relatively little-known technique that can vastly improve on the amount of ideas you get when running a brainstorming session. Compared to brainstorming, brainwriting has a number of advantages that should make it the preferred choice whenever you need to come up with ideas to solve a team problem. It is quicker than traditional brainstorming, can easily generate twice the number of ideas in the same time, and is preferred by more participants. Why not find out whether you shouldn't use it instead of brainstorming as well?

The Problems with Brainstorming

Although brainstorming is the number one choice of most teams when it comes to problem-solving (witness how the teams in the TV programme, "The Apprentice", invariably approach their problem-solving tasks by traditional brainstorming), there is enough research to show that it isn't the best way to create lots of ideas and lots of good ideas. The problem with brainstorming is that it is carried out in a group setting with ideas being recorded one at a time usually under the direction of one leader. This means that, firstly, ideas have to wait to be recorded and so may be forgotten or left out. Secondly, with one person directing the process, there is the possibility of personality differences that may inhibit the free flow of ideas. Thirdly, whatever the rules may say, many people in brainstorming hold back on freely expressing their ideas for fear of being judged.

So How Does Brainwriting Differ from Brainstorming?

The brainwriting technique starts in a similar way to brainstorming, ie a problem is defined and a group assembles to come up with solutions, first in large quantities and second in a qualitative listing. The key difference is that, in brainwriting, each participant thinks and records their ideas individually and anonymously and without any verbal interaction. These relatively small differences change the quantity of ideas and the dynamics of the group.

Here's How to Run a Brainwriting Session

1. Get everyone to sit in a group around a table. Hand them a sheet of paper (or download the template at the web address below). Ask them to write down the defined problem at the top and then draw 3 columns down the page. Select a rounds timer. Note: nobody is to write their names on the sheet.

2. Now tell everyone to write 3 solutions to the problem in each of the 3 columns. They should write freely without editing the ideas. As nobody will know who is writing down the ideas, there is no comeback. Do not allow any discussion.

3. After 3 minutes, move on to round two. Collect the papers, shuffle them and hand them randomly back. Anyone getting their previous paper changes with someone else. Now ask everyone to jot down 3 more ideas under the existing row. They can build on the first 3 ideas or think of something totally new.

4. Continue for as many rounds as people want. (After round one, it doesn't matter if people get a paper that they've already written on).

5. When all rounds are finished, collect the papers, and transfer all the ideas onto a whiteboard or flipchart for everyone to see. You can now begin the process of evaluation and selection of a solution.

So, how do these changes improve creativity?

These few simple changes can significantly increase the number of ideas generated in a brainwriting session. A group of 5 can easily produce over 100 ideas in 20 minutes. What's more, everyone gets exposed to lots of ideas and has the chance to think about them without being interrupted or directed by a group leader. And because it is anonymous, nobody is held responsible for ideas, or judged on their quality.