Enabling Everyone to Share Their Creative Ideas
How effective are your brainstorming sessions? Does everyone get a chance to share their opinions, or do you find that the people with the loudest voices dominate the discussion?
When only the most confident voices get heard, it can limit your team's creativity and result in "hidden gems" from more introverted colleagues staying hidden.
One way to make sure that everyone gets a fair hearing is to use brainwriting. Instead of sharing your thoughts out loud, brainwriting gives your people time to write them down. And when you come to talk through their ideas, there's often a richer selection to explore than if you'd used brainstorming alone.
In this article, we explain what brainwriting is, and how to set up a session with your team using our handy brainwriting template.
What Is Brainwriting?
Like brainstorming, brainwriting is a great way to share new ideas, encourage creativity, and develop innovative ideas. It was designed by German marketing expert Bernd Rohrbach in 1969.
Shy or introverted team members may be reluctant to speak up in group brainstorming sessions. Brainwriting overcomes these limitations by allowing them to write down their ideas instead, giving everyone an equal opportunity to participate. It also encourages people to take more time to formulate their thoughts, and enables them to develop ideas offered up by others.
A popular and lively form of brainwriting is known as 6-3-5. During a 6-3-5 session, brainwriting exercises are split into several rounds. In each round, six people write down three ideas each within five minutes.
After the first round, everyone swaps their piece of paper with someone else, reads what's on it, and then writes down three more ideas. These can be new ideas, or build on ideas that have already been shared.
After six rounds, the pieces of paper are collected, and all the suggested ideas are discussed and next steps agreed.
Although this example uses six people, you can invite any number of people to your brainwriting session. Other details can also be adapted to suit your needs, including the number of rounds and the amount of time given for each one. But most people find that aiming for three ideas in each round brings the best results.
Brainwriting Versus Brainstorming
Regular brainstorming, where everyone offers suggestions aloud, is a tried-and-true way to generate new ideas. If everyone is confident to participate, and they're prepared to consider other people's suggestions, it can be an energetic, exciting and effective way to tackle creative challenges.
However, not everyone feels confident enough to contribute to a brainstorming session. They may be anxious about receiving negative comments, or worried that their ideas might be unsuitable.
Some people may just need longer than others to come up with ideas, which can restrict their ability to participate in traditional brainstorming sessions. This is especially true if the people who speak first end up directing the discussion, as this can mean that their ideas become the only options "on the table."
In brainwriting, however, everyone's on an equal footing. All participants get to contribute at the same time, and all suggestions are anonymous. People also have more time to think through their ideas and to develop them. This can help to boost creativity, because it empowers people to put forward ideas that they might – in a normal brainstorming session – have deemed too risky.
If you want to encourage and empower your more introverted team members to speak up in meetings, or if you struggle to get your own opinions heard, take a look at our articles, Managing Introverted Team Members and How to Get Your Voice Heard in Meetings.
How to Run a Brainwriting Session
If you think your team could benefit from a brainwriting session, use our brainwriting template (PDF format) to help you to organize and structure it. Brainwriting works well as a pen-and-paper exercise. So, simply download the template, print out as many copies as you need – and you're ready to go!
If your team can't meet in person for your brainwriting session, why not host a virtual one? See Brainwriting Online, below, for more details on this.
Here are six simple steps to help you to run a brainwriting session:
1. Appoint someone to be the moderator.
The moderator ensures that everyone stays on track throughout the session. First, they should hand out copies of the brainwriting template and ask participants to fill in the date and the focus of the session. This is a good way to ensure that everyone knows what needs to be achieved.
2. Decide on the length and number of rounds.
Aim to give people enough time to come up with their own ideas, and to respond to other people's. But don't let things run on for too long! Consider how long people will likely be able to concentrate for, and make each round quick enough to keep everyone focused and energized.
3. Begin Round 1.
The moderator starts the timer and tells everyone to write down three ideas in the three spaces provided for Round 1. No discussion needs to take place at this stage.
4. Exchange worksheets.
When the time is up, the moderator collects all the brainwriting worksheets, then redistributes them at random. (Numbering the worksheets may make it easier to hand them out in a different pattern each time, so that people avoid getting the same worksheet over and over again.)
5. Repeat the process, round by round.
During each subsequent round, participants write down three more ideas. These can be brand new ideas, or can build on ideas that other people have already suggested on the worksheet. After each round, the worksheets are swapped around again – to a different person each time, if possible.
6. Discuss all the ideas.
After the final round, the moderator collects everyone's worksheets, then displays and talks through all the suggestions that have been made. Use a whiteboard to do this or, if you're meeting online, try out an online collaboration tool like Mural or Jamboard. Everyone can then discuss the ideas raised and make a group decision about which ones to take forward.
Brainwriting sessions can also be hosted online in a remote or virtual meeting.
First, the moderator should email everyone an electronic copy of the brainwriting template. Label each one that you send out with a different number in the file name ("Brainwriting Worksheet 1," for example). Then, ask participants to type their ideas into the boxes provided for each round.
At the end of each round, each person needs to save their worksheet and label it clearly ("Brainwriting Worksheet 1 After Round 2," for instance), before sending it back to the moderator. These can then redistributed among participants again, ready for the next round.
Running a brainwriting session in this way will likely take more time. You may even need to consider running the activity over several days, to enable people in different locations and timezones to put forward their ideas.
It may also be harder to keep everything anonymous, and to prevent people from getting the same worksheet more than once. But, as long as the moderator gives out clear instructions and helps everyone to stay on track, this can still be an effective way to work through a creative problem virtually.
An Example of Brainwriting
Below is an example of how a brainwriting session might work out. In this instance, a team at a bus company – The Local Bus Co. – is exploring ways to improve its app for passengers.
The brainwriting worksheet below shows how a wide range of ideas can be generated quickly, and how ideas can be developed by several different people throughout the session. (Click on the image below to enlarge it.)
To run a brainwriting session with your team, download our brainwriting template.
Brainwriting is similar to brainstorming: it can be used to generate new ideas, encourage creative problem-solving, and develop innovative solutions. But, instead of getting people to discuss ideas out loud, brainwriting gets people to write them down and share them anonymously.
A popular form of brainwriting is known as 6-3-5, where six people write down three ideas in five minutes. This formula can be adapted to suit your specific needs.
After each round of ideas, participants swap their brainwriting worksheets, and repeat the process several more times. During each round they can respond to other people's ideas or add new ones.
After the final round, all the ideas on the worksheets are shared with the group. Everyone can then discuss the suggestions that have been made and agree on the best ones to take forward.
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