How To Use Brainwriting To Generate More Ideas

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“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” — Albert Einstein

Brainwriting is where a group of participants write down as many ideas as possible.  It’s like brainstorming, except participants don’t have to talk to each other.

You just write your ideas down on a brainwriting grid.

With brainwriting, you can generate twice as many ideas than brainstorming, and it helps to get more people to participate, especially the quiet ones.

That said, brainwriting is not a replacement for brainstorming.  You add brainwriting after brainstorming to really expand your pool of ideas and include ideas that might still be floating around in people’s heads.  (This can be especially powerful for virtual sessions.)

In the book, Create in a Flash, Roger L. Firestien, PH.D. provides a great overview of using brainstorming to generate rapid ideas.

Generate 70 Ideas in 10 Minutes!

You can generate a lot more ideas if you try adding brainwriting to your brainstorming sessions.

Brainstorming will help you warm up your creativity and generate an initial set of ideas.   That’s good.  But brainwriting will help you generate even more ideas beyond just brainstorming.

You can use brainwriting for your problems and your solutions.

Remember that in addition to brainstorming solutions, you should brainstorm the problem to reframe problems as creative questions.  This means you can use brainwriting to generate more creative questions for your problems and to generate more creative ideas for your solutions.

Firestien writes:

“By using a combination of traditional brainstorming first, and then brainwriting, it is not uncommon to generate 70 ideas in ten minutes (really!) If your group is trained in Creative Problem-Solving, this number jumps significantly.”

Generate Twice as Many Ideas as Brainstorming

With brainwriting, it’s possible to generate twice as many ideas (or more) than just brainstorming.

Partly because participants can move at their own pace.  But also because a facilitator can quickly become a bottleneck to generating and capturing ideas.

Brainwriting sets your ideas free.

Firestien writes:

“It has been my experience that a brainwriting session usually produces about twice as many ideas as a brainstorming session.”

According to Firestien, here is why brainwriting generates more ideas than brainstorming:

  1. People who are reluctant to talk in a brainstorming session can express their ideas.
  2. Contributions are relatively anonymous.
  3. The facilitator can sometimes create a bottleneck during a brainstorming session.  There’s no waiting with brainwriting.

Start with Brainstorming, Then Add Brainwriting

Just because brainwriting is so effective does not mean you skip your brainstorming session.

Your brainstorming session acts like a warm up.

When you brainstorm as a group, you help kick start your creativity and you prime your mind for creative ideas.

This sets a powerful stage for your brainwriting session to flourish and let your ideas flow.

Firestien writes:

“Do not start off an idea generating session with brainwriting.  Always do a brainstorming session first, then add brainwriting. 

By doing this, the brainstorming session acts like a warm-up for the group.  If a member of the group gets stuck or slows down while they are brainwriting, they can look at the ideas that were generated with brainstorming and build on those ideas.”

Create Brainwriting Grids

A brainwriting grid is simply a page with a 9 box grid on it with your creative question or problem statement at the top.

To create a brainwriting grid, Firestien recommends creating a grid of 9 boxes, 3×3 style.

So that’s three boxes across the top, 3 boxes across the middle, and 3 boxes across the bottom.  The boxes are simply to place your sticky notes of ideas, so you can see all the ideas and don’t have to guess how to arrange them.

And by having your creative question or problem statement at the top, it helps prompt you to generate your ideas and remind you what problem you are trying to solve.

Firestien writes:

”When conducting a brainwriting session, begin with a stack of blank brainwriting grids.  Each square of the grid will contain a blank sticky note.  Each participant begins with a blank grid, and several extras are placed in the middle of the table of work area.”

Steps of the Brainwriting Process

The process for brainwriting is pretty simple.  Each person takes a grid and writes three ideas down, then grabs another grid.

This way, you can play off other people’s ideas and keep your creativity growing and flowing.

If you are doing this virtually, then you might simply create a virtual whiteboard with the empty grids spread out.

Here are the steps of the brainwrting process according to Firestien:

  1. Participants write the problem statement/creative question at the top of each grid.
  2. Use the guidelines for generating ideas: defer judgment, strive for quantity, seek wild and unusual ideas, and combine and build on other ideas.
  3. Participants write three ideas on the first open row of the brainwriting grid.  One idea per box.
  4. After writing three ideas, participants place the form in the middle of the table and pick up a different grid that another participant has started.  If there are none, they start with another blank grid.  With extras in the middle, n one has to wait for other members of the group.  A grid will always be waiting for them.

Firestien writes:

“Ideas can be new, or they can build on ideas already generated.  When brainwriting, participants should take time to read other ideas on the grids as they may inspire new ideas.  Participants then repeat the steps, filling the grids. 

Continue and add more pages as needed. 

Aim for eight to ten full brainwriting grids.  After you fill the grids with ideas, add the to the other ideas you generated using brainstorming.”

Don’t Let the Process Get in the Way of Your Great Ideas

Don’t let the idea of making grids or changing grids get in your way.

The real essence of brainwriting is sharing ideas in a group through writing versus talking.

You will have plenty of time to talk about the ideas after you write them down.  And, you will already have talked through ideas when you warmed up with brainstorming.

The real value of brainwriting is to help all ideas to be heard and to debottleneck the process of dumping ideas down.

Brainwriting is effectively a process that helps you expand your pool of ideas before you consolidate, contract, and synthesize down to your best ideas.

When you get stuck storming, write your way forward.

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