Brainstorming and brainwriting
techniques to get the best ideas from your team
The longer people do the same job, the greater the tendency to keep doing things the same way over and over again. But in every job, there are opportunities for creativity and innovation. The importance of creative thinking in business is something that every entrepreneur knows well. As a CEO with over 10-year-old company, I’m constantly thinking of new product ideas and audiences to reach.
But even for a creative person which usually has thousands of new ideas in a minute, it can be hard to come up with something fresh when you need it the most. Brainstorming and brainwriting are one of the tools I personally use to get my and team’s creative juices flowing.
Brainstorming is a quite popular way of approaching a problem in a more creative and fun way. It encourages people to come up with thoughts and ideas on the given topic, which can be both a problem to solve or a new product to develop. Sometimes it’s also the only method to move forward when you’re stuck on one issue for a long time. The biggest advantage of brainstorming is probably that it takes participants out of their comfort zones and mind boxes and that always bears really creative and innovative fruits.
In the first stage, participants are encouraged to freely submit ideas and exchange opinions on the subject. All ideas are saved. In the second stage, an expert or group of non-participating experts review its results in the first stage and tries to select the best ideas. Often the team themselves judge the ideas and discuss all of them which can be equally good, depending on the subject.
As a leader one should prepare the group for the meeting, present the subject or problem that they will be trying to solve and guide discussion so that all the people will be able to contribute.
However, to carry out a successful brainstorming session you have to follow a few basic rules. There are two different approaches. The first one allows constructive criticism. Early evaluation can be helpful at developing, changing or adjusting ideas right away. However, to make it work we need a team that knows each other well and feels comfortable enough to exchange opinions without feeling judged. The second approach is based on the assumption that people should avoid criticizing or rewarding ideas. For this reason, it’s important to approach it with an open mind and a non-judgment spirit. Your aim is to open up possibilities and break down incorrect assumptions about limits. Judgment at this stage would make it difficult to generate ideas and limit creativity. Evaluate outcomes at the end of the session. That’s the time to explore solutions further, using conventional approaches and separate winners from the dead weight.
All the ideas, even crazy ones are welcomed and built upon, and all participants are encouraged to contribute fully. This kind of open and laid-back atmosphere encourages people to speak their mind without being scared that what they say may sound stupid. In some variations of this method, you can even ask your team to think of 20 bad ideas first. It’s one of the good ways to create previously described atmosphere and avoid jumping into the intentional conversation too quickly.
Someone always has to run the meeting. That’s probably the most important role in the whole event. The facilitator should writing down ideas as people come up with them, prevent people from interrupting each other, and give everyone the opportunity to speak their mind. Along with leader it’s the person to prove that it’s safe to have bad or goofy ideas, and reward those who are creatively courageous.
What always amazes me at brainstorming sessions is that when one member gets stuck with an idea, another member’s creativity and experience can take the idea to the next stage. Brainstorming makes everyone in the team feel that they’ve contributed to the solution. It reminds people that others have creative ideas to offer too. Great for team building!
Although brainstorming is an easy and effective way of brushing up on team’s productivity, there are some issues that can take away the whole magic behind it. Like the fact that the loudest participant is usually heard the most and it’s easier for him to force his opinions. The one who is documenting the contributions is unable to fully participate but on the other hand, has an editorial power that can change idea’s perception. Brainwriting addresses these concerns. It’s especially helpful when you’ve got a few dominant people on your team.
- Brainwriting groups should be 4-6 people.You can make a few groups if needed.
- Each person should have a piece of paper (sticky note?) and a pen
- Each person writes down their first idea at the top of the sticky note.
- Ideas should be written with as clear message as possible (remember that they will be judged by what’s written so the idea has to defend itself)
- After putting the idea on paper, put it in the middle of the table. The same applies to next ideas. This continues until everybody has contributed as many ideas as they can come up with – it’s helpful to set a time for the thinking phase. Preferably short like 10 to 15 min.
- Once all ideas are gathered in one place, one person randomly picks a note. Reading the idea at the top the sheet, the participant adds any related ideas that comes to his mind.
- Then the note goes to the left (so the next person is able to reflect on the idea). This continues until the sheet has made one full circle or until there are no more ideas to add.
- When a sheet is finished it is set aside and the next sheet is taken. This continues until all sheets have been examined.
- At the end, each person in the group should have contributed ideas and perceptions on other ideas.
There are also variations and less strict sessions. For example at Inwedo when we have a specific thing to pick, everyone is writing down their ideas and sticks them to the wall. We try to make it as objective as it can be, mixing up notes so that people don’t know who came up with which idea. Then we vote for the best one (each person has two votes). It helps a lot in making quick choices for things that need different perspectives but not necessarily a really deep analysis.
Ground brainstorming rules like no criticism, welcoming every idea, focusing on quantity and people speaking out ideas makes it the method of choice for creative processes. Still it is not free from problems that range from participants’ fear of evaluation to the only one idea at a time rule. Brainwriting is an easy alternative or an addition to face-to-face brainstorming. It often brings more ideas in less time than. However it’s for you to try and decide which approach is better for your one of a kind team.