This is part 2 of my series on brainstorming. Today we’ll cover brainwriting, a collection of techniques based around idea passing. Others have already written about brainwriting here, or if you are more visual you can watch brainwriting here. So what is brainwriting and how does it fit into brainstorming?

Brainwriting explained

As with a regular brainstorm a mixed group are brought together to generate ideas by association. One idea generates another generates another. But it just takes so loooooong. Imagine waiting for the other 10 people in your group to state their ideas before you get your turn. I don;t know about you but I’d ahve forgotten mine by now, or if I hadn;’t, I would have been repeating it under my breath for the last 5 minutes not listening to a word anyone else was saying. Not exactly conducive to an open idea generating environment. Enter brainwriting.

With the individual version, everyone starts out writing a list of their ideas. Maybe in one big list, or on a set of individual post it notes. After some time everyone passes their ideas to the left, reads the ‘incomgin ideas’ and starts writing out more ideas. This new burst of creativity is often sparked by focusing in on a few ideas you hadn’t thought of yourself and either blending them with your own previous ideas, or maybe they are just inspiring.

Great. Everyone generates ideas simultaneously so you get a LOT more ideas. Also, there’s something about writing out ideas that removes a lot of social blocks. Ideas which may have seemed to silly to say can now get written out anyway. Perhaps they’ll be good to come back to later.

Special variants

There are a number of different variants on brainwriting, mostly differing on the group size (one or more), the point at which ideas are passed along, and the way in which ideas are listed or represented. Here are a few of the main variants:

  • 6-3-5 Brainwriting : 6 participants create 3 ideas in 5 minutes (total 18 ideas or 108 when repeated for 6 rounds). Personally I don’t think this places enough pressure on participants to create ideas, so I would replace the 3 with a prize for the highest number of ideas generated. It’s also a bit scripted with the worksheets used to capture ideas, so I’d bin that as well and go with something a bit more freeform.
  • Idea Card : each idea is put on a post it and stacked up to your right. when you are out of ideas, check the ‘incoming’ pile to your left for inspiration. A bit like chinese whispers on steroids. It’s a nice method because you can introduce a card game style to the event and put a bit of theatrics into to it (anything to disrupt people’s normal thinking style)
  • Central Pool: instead of passing, players put their finished idea list in the centre, and take another at random, adding to it until they are done. This can be a bit chaotic when done for multiple rounds, so you need to use individually coloured paper and the like to help differentiate between idea lists people have already seen.

Other variants have ideas put down as sketches or images, more complex group passing and the introduction of discussion around ideas of interest. I’ll get to these in my next post on group passing techniques, World Cafe and other advanced idea passing techniques.


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