This article describes the concept of Brainwriting in a practical way. After reading you will understand the definition, meaning and basics of this powerful brainstorming and creativity tool.
What is Brainwriting?
Like many brainstorming techniques, Brainwriting is also a way to stimulate creativity. It is a technique that works well with large groups, but also with groups that do not necessarily have to meet. Its strength lies in the fact that participants are presented with a problem statement or get sent a problem statement, so that they can think about this at any location and at any time.
This is how each participant gets the opportunity to write down their own ideas and/ or comments and they can pass these on to other participants if necessary. The other participants can then provide their own additional ideas or add constructive comments to the ideas. This passing on of thoughts and ideas can take place several times. All that is needed are sheets of paper and pens.
Brainwriting is a quick and easy method and the number of participants can vary from 5 to 300.
Brainwriting is also called the 6-3-5 method through which many ideas can be generated in a short period of time. The 6-3-5 Brainwriting method comes from the process of having 6 people each write down 3 ideas on a large sheet of paper.
They pass this paper on to the participant next to them, who will then add another 3 ideas to the paper. This is done 5 times and generates 6×18 = 108 ideas in less than an hour. This method can also be carried out in another setting for example 4-3-2.
Brainwriting is about having the participants write down as many ideas as possible. Because this is not always easy, there are a number of tricks that can be used. One of these is writing in block letters, so that everyone can read what it says on the paper. Preference should be given to short wording (one-line sentences). The use of individual words is not advisable because they take on different meanings in different contexts.
Furthermore, descriptions must be concrete and they must not be written down in general terms such as ‘better’, ‘more’ or ‘larger’. It is also important to formulate ideas in a positive way and to avoid words such as ‘not’ and ‘no’. Finally, the power of silence applies. The participants can only stay focused and come up with good ideas in a quiet environment.
It is advisable to choose a concrete working method for Brainwriting. First of all, there has to be a facilitator; the person who can be regarded as the chairperson of the session. He/she writes down the problem statement on all sheets of paper, gives all candidates a pen and a short instruction and keeps an eye on the time. The A4-size paper can also be divided into a number of boxes, in which everyone can write down their ideas. A thicker paper works best as this does not tear easily. Work can then be carried out on a step-by- step basis:
- Time starts and each participant has 5 minutes to write down 1 to 3 ideas.
- After these 5 minutes all forms are passed on to the person next to them.
- The second round starts and everyone will have another 5 minutes to write down 1 to 3 ideas below those of their neighbour. Everyone is free to use the previous ideas for inspiration.
- A third round follows after 5 minutes. This will continue until everyone has had their turn. It is also possible to have the sheet of paper completed by a maximum number of people.
- In the last round everyone selects the most inspiring ideas from the paper. The participants then draw a circle around these ideas.
- The ideas that have been circled are shared with the group. The participants will have an opportunity to explain their ideas and the ideas that receive too little support are crossed out.
- The facilitator then collects all sheets of paper with circled ideas.
- The facilitator types out all circled ideas and sends them to all participants, so that there is a total overview of the best ideas.
It is advisable to organise a meeting after the last step so that all of the ideas that have been clustered can be discussed. Brainwriting then transfers from being a quantitative method to a qualitative method; only the best ideas are chosen. Based on this, the participants will draw up a step-by-step plan to try and solve the previously identified problem statement. Because everyone contributes to the solution of the problem, there is a large support base among the participants.
Brainwriting has a number of advantages. First of all, it is not just the extrovert participants that can express themselves but it also offers chances for more introverted participants to be heard. Because the participants work in silence, there are no dominant participants and everyone has the same time to think about the problem statement. It is the task of the chairperson to maintain the silence and to immediately address participants when they are talking or whispering.
The best part about Brainwriting is the synergy that it evokes; by reading other participants’ ideas that have been written down at the top of the paper, each participant is encouraged to come up with creative ideas themselves. Each idea is therefore a source for a new idea or an expansion of that idea.
A pleasant side effect is that it facilitates remote working which means that forms can be sent by email. However, the facilitator needs a firm hand in this and he/she must ensure that everything is streamlined well, so that optimum use is made of the expertise and creativity of all participants.
Now it’s Your Turn
What do you think? Is Brainwriting applicable in your daily work? What is your experience with Brainwriting and other Brainstorming techniques? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Heslin, P. A. (2009). Better than brainstorming? Potential contextual boundary conditions to brainwriting for idea generation in organizations. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82(1), 129-145.
- Linsey, J. S., & Becker, B. (2011). Effectiveness of brainwriting techniques: comparing nominal groups to real teams. In Design Creativity 2010 (pp. 165-171). Springer, London.
- VanGundy, A. B. (1984). Brain writing for new product ideas: an alternative to brainstorming. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 1(2), 67-74.
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