Edward Glassman : Brainwriting Techniques
By Edward Glassman, PhD
During brainstorming, many people hold back because ideas lack anonymity. By 1970, research had shown that people who sit privately writing their own ideas generated more ideas as a group than a comparable team using brainstorming. An explosion of new brainwriting techniques followed.
Basically, people write their own ideas anonymously. Because no one knows the originator of the ideas, status differences do not matter, and people don't hold ideas back as much as during brainstorming. The ideas, while numerous, often lack breadth. However, one can obtain multiple benefits by using both brainstorming and brainwriting techniques in sequence.
A True Story: One of the participants in a workshop told me during a break that even after I requested non-evaluation and freewheeling idea generation, she still evaluated and held back ideas. She did this even during a brainwriting session where no one would see or judge her ideas. An internal gauntlet.
Here are some Brainwriting approaches that yield exciting ideas. They can be used by people in groups or working alone.
• Idea Gallery Brainwriting.
Write six to ten problem statements at the top of flip chart papers, one problem statement per sheet. Attach the flip chart papers to the wall for idea gallery.
People walk around and write ideas and solutions directly on the papers on the wall. The ideas that accumulate on the paper frequently trigger ideas in other people as they wander around.
Try this variation: Hang a paper with a problem statement written at the top outside your office door at work and invite people to write their ideas. Some useful ideas will appear.
• Idea Card Brainwriting.
Sit quietly for about 30 to 40 minutes, and write one idea per card on 5 x 8" colored index cards with a dark marker so you can read it pinned to the wall. Do not evaluate your ideas. Use the non-evaluative listing and automatic writing principles. Write an absurd, bizarre, exotic idea to trigger other ideas. Exchange cards with other people, relax, and allow someone else's idea to spark new ideas. Record the first idea that comes to mind when looking at each of their cards.
An interesting variation: everyone writes an absurd, bizarre, exotic idea on an index card. Pass the idea card to the person on your right. Write down the first idea that comes to your mind as you read the idea on the card you received. Use that idea as a trigger-idea to spark a better idea.
Another variation: Idea card can help produce an outline for a report or talk. Non-evaluatively list the ideas you would like to include on 3 x 5" index cards, one idea per card. Sort your cards in the order you want them to appear in your report or talk. Now prepare your report or talk.
A True Story: I led a four-day problem-solving creative thinking meeting for managers, supervisors, and key professionals from five plant sites of a large Fortune-500 Company to help solve some problems associated with "world class manufacturing." By the end of the meeting, they made committed action plans for five major new approaches and a number of smaller ones. They considered this an outstanding accomplishment.
The following week, a small team made up of people from three plants met to consider the hundreds of ideas that they had overlooked. The process consisted mainly of sorting ideas written on index cards and using these ideas as trigger-ideas to spark better ideas. The process worked. What they scheduled as a two-hour meeting lasted until 3 a.m. They identified many new paradigm shifts and developed ten major new proposals.
Idea sorting looking for trigger-ideas after idea card makes a powerful procedure.