Our recent post “How to use the collective intelligence in the room” sets out guidance for meeting in general. In this post, we discuss “brainwriting,” the research behind it, and how it can help your organization generate more ideas and greater creativity.
As sexy as brainstorming is, with people popping like champagne with ideas, what actually happens is, when one person is talking, you’re not thinking of your own ideas. Subconsciously you’re already assimilating to my ideas.” — Leigh Thompson, Kellogg School
Team brainstorming is a standard way to develop new ideas and strategies in business and investing, but research has shown it suffers from a significant problem. Group interactions, like brainstorming, are less effective than people realize. They can inhibit idea generation.
Conformity pressure is a phenomenon in which the first ideas are favoured, and the least creative ideas are produced. Thompson also points out that “early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation. They establish the kinds of norms or cement the idea of what are appropriate examples or potential solutions for the problem.”
This technique is a staple of collaboration and teamwork. However, is brainstorming the best way to come up with new ideas and creative solutions to severe problems? Some studies say no.
In face-to-face settings, the opportunity to fully share information and knowledge is limited by the fact that only one person can express his or her ideas at one time. While waiting for one’s turn to share ideas, a person may forget what he or she meant to say or get distracted from one’s ideas by the sharing process. There may be rather uneven participation as some individuals may dominate the discussion.” — Paul Paulus, the University of Texas at Arlington
Paulus concludes that group brainstorming to be less effective than individual brainstorming.
According to a growing body of research, a better alternative to this traditional group brainstorming is “brainwriting.” Using this method, people write down their ideas and then everyone comes together to share them verbally in a systematic way. One approach is to post the ideas on a wall, with no names attached to them, and have everyone vote on them.
Generate 20% more ideas and 42% more original ideas
In her studies, Thompson has found that brainwriting groups generate 20% more ideas and 42% more innovative ideas than those using traditional brainstorming.
“There’s not a single published study in which a face-to-face brainstorming group outperforms a brainwriting group.” — Leigh Thompson
However, this does not mean it is ineffective or useless to bring together teams to brainstorm. Paulus and his colleagues have explored new tweaks and techniques that improve brainstorming effectiveness.
They designed two small experiments to test a combination of brainwriting and group brainstorming in a real office and organizational setting. The participants were employees at a global technology company looking for ways to improve productivity after hiring more staff.
In the first experiment, 57 employees were asked to come up with ideas about how to create an excellent, significant and productive team.
In one condition, individual participants wrote down ideas on slips of paper first, followed by group collaboration. After 10 minutes of writing down thoughts as individuals, they were asked to start passing their sheets of paper around to the group as they continued to come up with ideas.
In a second condition, the order was reversed, with the group writing down ideas and passing them around first, followed by 10 minutes of writing thoughts down individually.
Ultimately, people generated 37% more ideas when they worked as a group first. These results suggest that group-based idea generation is useful when it uses a brainwriting approach and the correct sequence.
Paulus and his colleagues also tested another technique called asynchronous brainwriting. In this method, individuals quickly alternate between sharing with a group and working alone.
In this experiment, the researchers assigned the same employees to either a group condition or an asynchronous condition. In the asynchronous situation, they had participants alternate between writing ideas individually for eight minutes, and brief three-minute review sessions in which they passed around and read their team members’ ideas.
The asynchronous approach yielded more ideas than the group condition, with 71% more ideas generated per person per minute.
Paulus and his team concluded that both experiments demonstrate the benefits of exchanging ideas by brainwriting. The results also indicate it is a particularly useful approach in organizational settings when there is interest in generating many new ideas.
Brainwriting is a great way to generate more creative and productive ideas in any organization.
It can also be a useful brainstorming method for hybrid teams of on-site employees and independent consultants working virtually.
Teams can collaborate and share their ideas through a combination of face-to-face meetings and video conferencing. They can start with individual brainwriting or use the group-first or asynchronous approaches.
The Advantages of Brainwriting
This is where brainwriting comes in. Teams can use brainwriting as an alternative or complement to brainstorming. The advantage of brainwriting over brainstorming is that ideas are generated simultaneously and in written form, thus, you don’t run into the problem of having one idea or person dominating the process. Every idea is written down first, and only after all ideas are collected does the group discussion begin.
Another advantage of brainwriting is that you can use the methods for generating ideas in large groups. Brainstorming, on the other hand, is only useful for smaller groups.
Experiment with these methods, you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Idea Generation: Brainwriting is the New Brainstorming Infographic by InLoox.com
Now that you have more great ideas, it is best if you have an excellent approach to distill the ideas and implement them. I encourage you to check out How to Create A High-Performance Team. We provide strategic insights in making your teams more productive. It starts with intentionally assembling teams with the diversity of thought.
Other Idea Generation Techniques
Ideas are things that come and go and fairly frequently too. However, great ideas usually spring unexpectedly in moments of inspiration. It becomes easier to come up with great ideas when we free ourselves from the mundane, everyday, conventional thoughts that take up the thought space in our brain.
An article by Cleverism gives you a short note on the three stages of successful ideation: generation, selection, and implementation. In addition, they provide 18 idea generation techniques that can be used in conjunction with brainwriting.
Converting your idea into a reality is never an easy task. It is challenging. Whether you are an executive or an entrepreneur, “giving ideas life” — you must own the responsibility regardless of the circumstances. No one understands your idea or the dynamics associated with it as you do. So, in this regard, you are on your own. The journey will require you to learn about yourself – more than anything else will in your career.
Today’s competitive marketplace requires us all to either convert our ideas – or be a part of turning someone else’s ideas – into a reality. If you are not participating in either of these activities, it is essential for you to re-evaluate your purpose, what you stand for and your desire to be relevant. Moreover, be part of cultivating innovation around the clock. Embrace the entrepreneurial attitude. It is a requirement to cultivate growth and opportunity for the organization you lead and serve.
Entrepreneurship is no longer just a business term. It’s a way of life. You don’t need to be an entrepreneur to be entrepreneurial.
Did you ever think that not being involved in innovative activities was irresponsible? Well, it is – not just to yourself, but to those around you.
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