Brainwriting: A Collaborative Idea Generation Technique
Brainwriting is a group brainstorming technique that involves writing down ideas on sticky notes or index cards, rather than verbalizing them. This technique can be particularly useful for teams that have trouble speaking up in a traditional brainstorming session, or for situations where there are time constraints or language barriers.
How Brainwriting Works
Here’s a step-by-step guide to using Brainwriting in your team:
- Define the problem: Start by defining the problem or challenge that you want to address. This should be a clear and specific goal that the team is working towards.
- Set the rules: Explain the rules of Brainwriting to the group. Each person should have a set amount of time to write down their ideas on sticky notes or index cards, without any discussion or feedback from others.
- Generate ideas: Give the group a set amount of time (usually 5-10 minutes) to write down their ideas. Encourage everyone to come up with as many ideas as possible, without judging or critiquing them at this stage.
- Collect the ideas: Once the time is up, collect all of the sticky notes or index cards and put them up on a board or wall.
- Sort and categorize: Sort the ideas into categories or themes. You can use color coding, symbols, or other methods to group similar ideas together.
- Build on the ideas: Encourage the group to build on the ideas that have been generated. They can add more details, suggest modifications, or combine different ideas to create new ones.
- Vote on the best ideas: Use a voting system to identify the most promising ideas. Each team member can vote for their top three ideas, or you can use a more elaborate voting system depending on the size and complexity of the group.
Brief History of Brainwriting
The origins of brainwriting are somewhat unclear, as the technique is thought to have developed organically through various iterations of traditional brainstorming.
However, some sources credit Bernd Rohrbach, a German consultant and author, with popularizing brainwriting in the 1960s and 70s. Rohrbach developed a technique called “silent brainstorming,” which involved participants writing down their ideas on index cards, which were then shuffled and redistributed for further development. He is also credited for developing 6-3-5 brainwriting method.
Since then, brainwriting has been used in a variety of contexts, including business, education, and research. Its popularity has grown in recent years, as organizations seek more efficient and effective ways to generate ideas and solve problems.
In 2014, the Institute of Design at Stanford University conducted a study comparing brainwriting to traditional brainstorming and found that brainwriting generated significantly more ideas and had a higher rate of idea novelty compared to traditional brainstorming. This study helped to increase awareness and adoption of the technique, particularly in the design and innovation communities.
Today, brainwriting is widely recognized as a valuable brainstorming tool and is used by many organizations around the world. Its flexibility and adaptability have led to the development of various iterations and adaptations, such as the 6-3-5 brainwriting method and the online brainwriting tool, GroupMap.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Brainwriting
Like any brainstorming technique, Brainwriting has its pros and cons. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of using Brainwriting in your team:
- Encourages participation: Brainwriting can be a useful technique for teams where some members may be hesitant to speak up in a traditional brainstorming session. Writing down ideas can help to level the playing field and give everyone a chance to contribute.
- Generates more ideas: Because everyone is writing down their ideas simultaneously, Brainwriting can generate a larger number of ideas than traditional brainstorming.
- Provides structure: Brainwriting can provide a more structured approach to idea generation than traditional brainstorming. The rules and time limits can help to keep the group focused and on track.
- Reduces groupthink: Brainwriting can help to reduce the influence of dominant personalities or groupthink, as each person is generating ideas independently.
- Lack of interaction: Brainwriting can be a less interactive process than traditional brainstorming, as participants are working independently rather than bouncing ideas off each other.
- Limited verbal feedback: Because ideas are written down rather than spoken, there may be limited verbal feedback or discussion during the Brainwriting session.
- Risk of duplication: Because each person is working independently, there is a risk of duplication or repetition of ideas.
Despite these potential drawbacks, brainwriting can be a useful tool for generating and organizing ideas in a group setting. Its flexibility allows it to be adapted to various contexts and goals, and it can be used in combination with other brainstorming techniques to maximize creativity and productivity.
Some examples of organizations using brainwriting include Procter & Gamble, which uses the technique in its innovation workshops, and IDEO, a design and innovation consultancy that incorporates brainwriting into its human-centered design process.
Brainwriting is a useful technique for generating ideas and encouraging participation in a group setting. By providing a structured approach to idea generation, Brainwriting can help to level the playing field and generate more ideas than traditional brainstorming. However, it’s important to consider the disadvantages of Brainwriting and determine whether it’s the right technique for your team and situation.