Brainstorming is Dead, Long Live Brainwriting
How Brainwriting Helped Us Craft Winning Campaigns
Brainstorming can be a powerful ideation tool. Groups can create solutions to problems, answer questions, and create solid strategies in a single session. Ask any creative or team member and they will probably admit that at some point or another, they have participated in a brainstorming session. They may also believe that the process of brainstorming was the best way to get the outcome they desired.
Contrary to popular belief however, brainstorming is difficult. The nature of the beast has good intentions, but the practice is riddled with issues. Historically, brainstorming takes too much time, tangents are explored and abandoned, thoughts are lost, and chaos typically erupts in the form of 18 separate conversations.
Our own team had this problem. With each new online PR client, we would block off a period of time to brainstorm for them. We’d mull over ideas about content, placement opportunities, and onsite optimization. These sessions would typically go over time and be sidetracked by the lack of clear linear progression or time to think in between ideas. In walks brainwriting.
What is Brainwriting
Brainwriting is like brainstorming in the sense that you’re actively creating new ideas constantly during the session. The difference however, is instead of verbally shouting them aloud, you write them down individually and save discussion for the end. The practice has been around since 1968 but has gained recent popularity with teams. It is slowly being covered by more and more publications including Harvard Business Review and Fast Co (where I originally came across it).
Basic brainwriting follows the 6-3-5 method. 6 people, write 3 ideas, in 5 minutes. This method however can be scaled to any type of group size. With 6 people the basic portion of writing will take 30 minutes. If you’re over 8 people I highly suggest breaking into several smaller groups so the process doesn’t take too long.
After you’ve decided groupings each member is given a piece of paper. A timer is set for 5 minutes and members should go to work writing down at least 3 original ideas for the chosen topic. Once the 5 minutes is over, group members pass their paper to the next person and the cycle continues until each person has their original paper.
After this main writing session, there is a discussion. Members should have a chance to read over their paper and then share their favorite ideas. This portion will feel more like brainstorming and can last as long as you desire.
Our Implementation of Brainwriting
For our team, brainwriting seemed like a no-brainer. Our biggest struggles with brainstorming were that because we were using these ideas for a client, we needed a large number of them for an entire strategy. This led to lots of chaos and tangents during our sessions. Additionally, we always needed someone to be writing the ideas down, which left one member of the group out and scrambling to type everything people were saying. Brainwriting solved both problems.
For a typical Brainwriting session, we’d have about 8 people. We first began with pieces of paper and our writing session would take 40 minutes or so. Our team was always done on time and the person who needed to craft a strategy would have 8 pieces of paper filled of ideas.
One of our team member’s favorite portions of brainwriting was the ability to expand upon others ideas. It’s much easier to comment on a piece of paper with a way to take something to the next level than it is in group conversation.
Lessons for Your Implementation Brainwriting
As with many new strategies and processes implementation comes with refinement. During our brainwriting sessions, we learned several things that can help make the transition smooth and the session efficient.
Research Ahead of Time
Our team found that ideas flowed best and fit within the time requirement when we each spent a few minutes prepping. The day before our session, whoever was leading would send out an email with all the information the team should know. It was then up to each individual member to read through and familiarize themselves with the content. This cut down on time spent introducing the idea and allowed us to start writing right away.
Set a Timer
Although we all became sick of the classic iPhone alarm noise, the loud sound indicating it was time to switch papers helped keep us on track. We highly recommend timing each 5 minute session and using a timer everyone can see and hear.
After a while paper became a pain as the client lead would have to read everyone’s handwriting and determine what they were trying to say. A google doc worked much better for our team. We’d number tabs and then everyone around the table would number off. This kept all our ideas legible and allowed for us to paste in links to specific publications or relevant articles.
Hopefully your team is now prepared to start brainwriting! Feel free to switch things up and find what works for you but remember to keep the single person focus with ideation.