Brain writing your way into the creative zone
January 22, 2011
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Brain writing is an excellent way to get creative juices flowing in a group with individuals who tend to be introspective in their thinking. A time-saving method to obtain solutions for several questions at one-go, brain writing enables people to share their ideas in a quiet, conducive environment.
I facilitated a session on brain writing recently with the aim of showing how the tool could be used to share knowledge in a calm, structured way (as opposed to brainstorming, its anarchic cousin!).
The process in a nutshell:
- Participants sit in groups of 5 or 6
- Each person writes out their individual problem question on A4 paper provided. (Note: how the question is worded determines the quality of the ideas received)
- Each person then passes their A4 paper to the person sitting next to her, who in turn reads the question and writes a suggestion or an idea to solve the problem.
- Like passing parcels, each A4 paper moves from one participant to the next every few minutes, with suggestions being added by each person.
The point here is to build on the suggestions being written on the A4 paper. So in effect, after the first suggestion is written, subsequent participants will now be able to see both the question and suggestions. This person now has the choice of either developing on the suggestions written by an earlier colleague or writing out a completely new idea.
How is this different from brainstorming?
Often, brainstorming is the method people turn to when they want creative solutions to problems, and that’s fine. However in a brainstorming exercise, several scenarios are possible:
- People who enjoy speaking, who have louder voices tend to drown out the quieter ones. Of course, one may argue that a good facilitator should be able to manage such individuals. But what about the introspective thinkers who articulate better on paper?
- When ideas are verbalized by someone, there is an unconscious tendency for people in the room to censor themselves and rethink their ideas or worse, refrain from sharing their points altogether.
Why consider brain writing for your meetings?
- Stimulate creativity by giving a person quiet time to consider a question and respond to it without any censorship. There are no verbal cues to skew a person’s flow of thought and so, the answers and suggestions provided are varied and interesting.
- Fast idea generation. Several questions are put afloat at the same time by the individuals in the group. Each individual comes away with at least 5 -6 possible solutions for their problem.
- Get answers for several questions at one time. It’s perfect for group meetings where everyone has their own unique question but stand to benefit from the group’s diversity. With brain writing, there is more freedom in the choice of questions as they don’t have to be related. (This is not possible with brainstorming)
- Useful to overcome conflict within a group. Being a non-verbal session, each individual sees only the question before them, and not the person.
- Build trust in new groups. In newly formed teams, there is a ‘teething period’ when people are unsure of the individuals in the group. Brain writing helps keep the calm and allows all voices to be heard, without anyone feeling left out.
Being such a simple method, it’s easy to over-use it. I’d suggest use it sparingly and in groups of no more than 8 to maintain creativity. Any more, and you risk exhausting the participants.
Have you any experience with brain writing? Or some variation of it? Your thoughts are welcome here.
Resource: Click on the KS Toolkit for more information on brain writing.