Brainwriting: Sifting through the ephemeral tempest of ideas to find gems

Why Brainwriting and not Brainstorming?

“Let’s brainstorm!”

“We really need a brainstorming session!”

Oftentimes, when we need to generate ideas, we turn to brainstorming as our ultimate method to squeeze out the creative juice to churn a revolutionary idea. No doubt, there are numerous benefits and advantages. Brainstorming builds commitment, enthusiasm, involvement, and loyalty. It helps stimulate creativity and builds self-esteem when people participate actively and are being asked for their ideas.

However, it may also kill self-esteem due to the influence of peer pressure during the process. There are also those who may feel uncomfortable sharing their ideas due to the fear of possible resistance from other group members. Hence, it may sound great in theory, but it might cause more harm than good especially when performance is oral rather than written.

Putting the storm of ideas into words – Brainwriting

15 years after the term “Brainstorming” was popularised by Alex Faickney Osborn (who developed a structured brainstorming technique called the “6-3-5 BRAINWRITING”). This technique helps facilitate innovation processes by having generated ideas and solutions written simultaneously on paper. In doing so, it increases the number of ideas generated with less time. This method helps the group involvement to be more focused and individualistic, tapping into collective input as group members build on each other’s ideas.

Similar to traditional brainstorming, brainwriting focuses on the quantity of ideas instead of the quality of ideas. It also further minimises external pressure and distractions, offering opportunities for greater creativity. Brainwriting also has the advantage of parallel idea generation. This means productivity increases as the entire group writes their ideas at the same time instead of taking turns to present (a serial idea generation) their ideas during a brainstorming session.

When is the best time to use brainwriting?

Every single time! But more importantly, when there are many individual problems that require solutions or when there is limited time for discussion or when the team consists of individuals that are shy, reserved, or introspective. In addition, brainwriting should be made to good use especially when ideas need to flow freely without any censorship.

Brainwriting Best Practices

Brainwriting is simple. It is also known as individual brainstorming, a cascade session, idea writing, and non-oral brainstorming. To ensure a smooth process during brainwriting, the facilitator should prepare enough paper or cards (A4 size or smaller) or Post-it Notes for each participant. The question or problem statement should be able to push participants to think out of the box and outside their comfort zones. The facilitator should constantly encourage participants for more ideas in order to maximise output and variation.

There can be more than one way to approach brainwriting. The approach you choose will depend on your team and specific goals. Below are some approaches or variations that are most commonly used. You may tweak the process accordingly to suit your team and goals.

  1. 6-3-5 Brainwriting

    Aim: To generate 108 new ideas in half an hour.

    Form a group of six (6) people. Each person will be given one brainwriting sheet. Each participant will write down three (3) ideas every five (5) minutes on the sheet. Once five minutes is up, each participant will pass their sheet to the next person on their left to add another three ideas on it and this will count as the first round. Kindly note that this all happens silently and without any interference or communication. All participants are encouraged to draw and build on others’ ideas for inspiration. After six rounds in 30 minutes, the group would have generated 108 ideas and be ready to review.

    During the review process, participants will verbally present their thoughts in a short and concise manner. Once finished, the best ideas will be selected. Do hang onto those unused ideas, though; they may prove useful in future ideation sessions as stokers or idea triggers that you may continue to build and elaborate on. There are various methods you can use to select the best idea by the end of your brainwriting session such as “Post-it Voting”, “Four Categories”, “Bingo Selection” and “Now Wow How Matrix”.

  2. Nominal Brainwriting

    Each person in a group writes down an idea on an index card or a Post-it Note. Ideas are not shared with other group members while generating ideas. At the end of a set period of time (e.g., 10–15 minutes), the ideas are collected, categorised, and evaluated. Then, expand on each other’s ideas and select ideas by considering which idea is most likely to succeed, revolutionise, and delight the users.

  3. Remote Brainwriting

    If you want a virtual platform to share ideas, remote brainwriting is a good alternative. However, do consider doing a test run first to work out any technical difficulties and determine the guidelines and best practices that will work best for your team.

    Common remote brainwriting tools or platforms include:

    • Instant messenger
    • Email
    • Blogs or wikis
    • Google Sheets

    Post a question or a problem statement on your preferred virtual platform. Then determine a certain time frame given to your team to respond. The time frame can be throughout the entire day or even as long as a week. The team can add ideas as and when inspiration hits or when convenience strikes.

    This approach is more flexible and low-key. It works great for those who prefer to think through problems in their own time without the pressure of other people or the clock.

In a nutshell, brainwriting increases scalability as you are able to gather data ranging from a few people in your product team, to hundreds of people at a conference without incurring high cost or detailed planning. Secondly, there is no need for great facilitation or social psychology skills. All you need is a brief script, some cheap supplies or a remote tool like Google Sheets, and between 10 to 30 minutes to conduct the session. Furthermore, its parallel idea generation approach increases efficiency as everyone is writing ideas at the same time. While brainwriting is generally done in silence, there still exists a constant flow of creativity as each person gains inspiration from seeing each other’s ideas, ultimately achieving the purpose of churning out large quantity of ideas.

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams

That being said, we conducted our very own brainwriting session during one of our Artificial Intelligence (AI) event – A New Era of Banking in AI: How to Get Started Today.

The problem statement given was related to digital transformation in the financial services industry. It was a fruitful session as professionals from the same industry with different expertise come together to think of how to kickstart and implement digital transformation initiatives in their workplace.

As technologies advance rapidly, the bigger the sea of opportunity lies before us. Great opportunities do not come every day, so how can we recognise and utilise them to our advantage? You see, an opportunity without an idea would amount to nothing. But an opportunity with a brilliant idea can spark a revolution. So, unlock the real power of ideation and unleash your creativity today.

By | 2020-04-29T12:52:12+00:00 11th March, 2020|Insights|

About the Author:

Laura Tsen is the Marketing Executive of JurisTech. She is always intrigued by new ideas. She believes that success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.