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Instead of Brainstorming, Try Brainwriting

04/26/2020 10:35 PM | Arundati Dandapani (Administrator)

By Margaret Imai-Compton, MLIS, CUG, FMRIA

Over the years, brainstorming has come to be an accepted and normal part of business problem-solving, bringing together a team to solve a problem or generate new ideas and directions.

Typical brainstorming utilizes a facilitator who directs the session, and it asks participants to call out ideas, contribute builds, and express their solutions. Brainstorming requires a strong element of verbal participation and verbal idea-building.

What happens, then, when key players (often the most senior persons in attendance) speak up with their initial ideas at the outset of the session? There is a tendency to stay with those first ideas without considering the contributions of more conservative or reticent participants. As well, stronger personality types tend to champion and verbally defend their contributions, without listening to quiet or shy team members.

The challenge, then, is how to encourage lateral thinking in a group environment where there are different personality types, some of whom are quick to make a contribution while others need reflection or confidence to voice theirs.

Introduce brainwriting! This technique involves everyone in the session and uses the same principles of brainstorming. The genius of brainwriting, however, is that it harnesses everyone’s contributions by providing each participant an equal voice in the process. Here’s how it works. 

1. Use no names. Have the participants sit around a table, each with a sheet of paper, and instruct them not to write their names. Anonymity is one of the key success factors in brainwriting. At the top of the page, participants write down the task to be brainstormed.

2. Use timed and free form. The facilitator gives a timed session (typically two to three minutes) to list as many ideas as possible. Participants are instructed not to edit or finesse the ideas. In brainwriting, I often direct my workshop participants to write from the heart, not the head, and to write in free form.

3. Mix it up. When time is called, all the participants hand their sheets to the facilitator, who shuffles and randomly redistributes them. Now, the participants have new sheets with someone else’s ideas, so they add to the list by either building on the existing ideas or taking a new direction. At the end of the next timed session, the sheets will have grown in quantity and content. Continue until the facilitator decides that ideas are exhausted (typically three to five rounds, depending on the task).

4. Share the collective output. At this point, the facilitator will record all the ideas on a flip chart so participants can view the output. Only then are participants given back their voice, and discussion can begin on where to start the ideation.

Why does brainwriting work? First, there’s no discussion during the initial rounds, so it yields a lot of ideas in a short period of time.

Second, all the participants, even the quiet and reticent ones, get a voice and contribute their ideas.

Third, it’s anonymous, so there’s freedom to be creative.

Lastly, by exchanging sheets, team members build and evaluate ideas in a concentrated, creative way.

This is a useful, snappy technique that involves everyone’s participation and ensures that both introverts and extroverts contribute in a creative and meaningful way.


Author: The late Margaret Imai-Compton, FMRIA MLIS, CUG, FMRIA was a distinguished industry leader and practitioner for nearly three decades. She was the Principal of Imai-Compton Consulting Inc., and also worked at Research Management Group.  

Article Source: Vue Magazine, November 2010 Issue 

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