Most brainstorming sessions suck. Facilitators aren’t often skilled enough to direct the creative process and overcome interpersonal and intrapersonal barriers to idea-generation. Participants are not as organized as they need to be. One or two “meeting-hogs,” who lack self-awareness and self-control, dominate the conversations with their pet ideas and shut everyone else down. And then there’s groupthink and self-censorship based on responses to earlier suggestions by others. Consequently, bold ideas seldom survive a group discussion.
If you want to buck the odds, try “brainwriting” instead of brainstorming.
In its simplest form, brainwriting has the participants quietly reflect upon an open-ended prompt of appropriate scope, for example, “how could we improve our design process,” and write down their ideas. A group leader can organize the responses by combining identical ideas, grouping thematically-related ideas, and posting them on a wall for the group to appraise them further. Then, the participants vote on their favorites, and the top ‘n’ number of ideas or priorities are identified for future discussion and exploration.
Idea for Impact: Teams Don’t Think—Individuals Do
In essence, brainwriting isolates idea generation from the instantaneous discussion and evaluation that can hamper the creative process.
Brainwriting, when followed by discussion, combines the benefits of both individual and group creativity. Studies have repeatedly shown that people think of more new—and practical—ideas on their own than they do in a group.
In my experience, this creative thinking process is inclusionary, engaging, time-effective, non-judgmental, and mostly free from pressures to conform to others’ ideas. Brainwriting is particularly useful with a group of people who are reserved and would be unlikely to offer many ideas in an open group session.