When you need to impress a client or target audience, you’re desperate for a winning idea. You could turn to consultants or sister companies for inspiration. But why would you use those when the best and brightest ideas are right in the heart of your company? Those people you call colleagues/teammates/employees are a wealth of information ready to be tapped into.

But before you start one of those meetings where the loudest and proudest offer input (i.e., a brainstorming session), consider a more efficient approach. Put into practice, brainwriting is known to reveal some exceptional thoughts.

What is brainwriting?

Coined by German marketing professional, Bernd Rohrbach, brainwriting is an inclusive way to generate ideas as a team. As implied by the name, brainwriting involves writing ideas rather than vocally sharing them. Safe to reveal thoughts via pen or keyboard, teammates contribute unique ideas that might not have been shared before a crowd.

In its simplest form, brainwriting goes something like this:

  1. Each participant writes three ideas on a piece of paper.
  2. Participants exchange papers, review the ideas, and add three original ideas to the sheet.
  3. After this process repeats for several rounds, participants discuss the list of ideas produced.

Compared to the classic brainstorming session, brainwriting might seem a bit untraditional. But before you decide to give this method a try, see how the two stack up.

How brainwriting compares to brainstorming

Brainstorming is a spontaneous form of group discussion where people vocally share their ideas. In the right environment, a brainstorming session can be a positive, energetic way to extract creative ideas. Those with a short timeframe and a room full of people ready and willing to share their ideas can greatly benefit from a brainstorming session.

A huge barrier to a successful brainstorming session is social anxiety. Many people don’t feel comfortable speaking out or doubt their ability to provide beneficial content. Also, some people take a while to form their thoughts and may have their thought process interrupted when a discussion is simultaneously taking place.

Brainwriting creates a level playing field. Each team member has the same amount of time and opportunity for their thoughts to be comfortably shared. With a lack of distractions, minds can stay focused and free to let creativity flow. Written ideas are also easier for people to process than vocal communication, opening the door for team members to better develop each others’ thoughts.

Benefits to brainwriting

The perks to brainwriting are as numerous as the ideas that come from using this productive system. Consider the following:

Employees have the inside scoop

Some companies hire consultants to help solve problems. But the best people for the job are those who see the problems daily and, often, have the solutions. Your employees’ insider knowledge and perspective are often superior to outside sources and comes without the high price tag. Choose to add an incentive to your team’s brainwriting to provide motivation.

Let every voice be heard

Some people are ready and willing to share their thoughts with the team. But sometimes the shy, quiet personalities are the deepest thinkers — capable of producing some of the best ideas. Harness the power of every mind with a technique that helps every voice be heard.

The option to stay anonymous

Anonymity can be very freeing. Employees often share things they would never verbalize when their identity is hidden. Maybe you’re discussing a difficult or personal topic. The beauty of brainwriting is that you can adapt it to keep people’s answers anonymous.

Eliminate bias

Detaching names from ideas prevents people from liking or disliking an idea based on who gave it. For example, the group may be more likely to support an idea from the senior member of the team versus the intern — but with names removed, everyone has an equal chance to “wow” the crowd.

Avoid groupthink

People often get stuck on the first few ideas discussed in a brainstorming session. Once the ball gets rolling developing these early thoughts, it’s difficult to deviate and present new material. Luckily, a case of groupthink can be solved with over a hundred unique ideas resulting from a brainwriting session.

Hold more efficient meetings

Unlike its chaotic, unruly sibling (brainstorming), brainwriting saves time with its structured and productive nature. With clear expectations and protocols, teams can pump out solid thoughts without any funny business.

How to conduct a brainwriting session

Brainwriting has undergone a lot of change since its takeoff in the late 1960s. Today there are multiple templates and tools designed for brainwriting. To get you started, we’re going to lay out the simple methods you can use to reveal your team’s ideas today.

6-3-5 Brainwriting

Let’s talk numbers. To use the 6-3-5 method, you need a group of six people who each write three ideas in five minutes. This process is repeated for six rounds, leaving you with 108 written ideas in 30 minutes. Now that’s efficiency. For the smoothest process possible, follow these tips:

  1. Choose a session moderator to track time, provide directions, and facilitate discussion at the end of the session. This individual also shares the prompt or question that the group must answer.
  2. Establish the best format and timeframe for your team. For example, if you have more than six participants, you can have multiple groups of six. Or, if you’re short on time, limit the number of rounds or amount of time allotted for idea writing.
  3. Provide a space for everyone’s thoughts by giving each participant a document (paper or digital) to compile their thoughts and stay on course. Use a pre-made brainwriting template or create your own by including numbered idea spaces labeled with the corresponding round number.
  4. Allow participants to quietly write their ideas on the documents. After the time is up for each round, the moderator collects the documents and redistributes them among the group. Participants must write three original thoughts, or further develop another person’s ideas, on the new document they received.
  5. Put all the ideas on display for the team to easily see. An interactive whiteboard is a great place to compile and save ideas. Together, the team can pick ideas that have the greatest potential and make plans to implement them in their company’s goals.

Collaborative Brainwriting

The fast timeframe and added pressure of group meetings may not work for your team. Collaborative brainwriting allows teammates to gradually add ideas to a designated space as inspiration comes.

This flexible approach to idea generation starts with an established prompt and deadline for idea submission. Post the prompt on a poster or whiteboard in a public space for people to casually jot down their ideas. After the deadline, gather the ideas and discuss the thoughts as a group.

These two brainwriting methods work great in a physical workplace, but with a few tweaks, they are just as effective for remote teams.

How do you use brainwriting in remote collaboration?

Since early 2020, almost half of U.S. employees have made the switch to remote work. So the opportunity to meet in person, shuffle around papers, and manipulate the same whiteboard isn’t always available to everyone. The good news is that brainwriting can easily be done remotely.

Replace physical with digital

Tools like email, instant messaging, online whiteboards, and Google Drive are great substitutes for a paper and pen. For example, conduct a remote version of collaborative brainstorming by creating a Google Sheet for your team to submit their ideas. Or, bring the ideas to life with Vibe’s user-friendly template where team members can place ideas on digital sticky notes. The best part? The ideas are already compiled in one space for everyone to view.

But maybe your team needs more anonymity to freely share ideas. Moderators can use the 6-3-5 approach by creating a Google Doc, labeled by number (i.e., “Brainwriting Form 1), for each person. The moderator anonymously assigns a number to each participant and provides them with a link to that document. Users can keep their identity under wraps by viewing the link from a guest browser or using incognito mode.

Time frame

Teams have the option to complete the rounds during a video conference call, but it may take longer as the moderator redistributes the lists via email or a shared link. Alternatively, teams can stretch the brainwriting session over the course of a day, or several days, allowing more time for participants to gather their thoughts. If you go this route, be sure to set a clear deadline for returning the form to the moderator so they can redistribute the forms.

Moderators share a new link with each participant at the end of each round and then compile all the ideas into a single document. During a video conference call, like a Zoom meeting, participants can review the master document of ideas and discuss favorites as a team.

Vibe’s integrated whiteboard makes it super easy to view and edit a list while using apps like Zoom. Amp up your brainwriting sessions with access to over 80 integrated apps and an easy-to-use brainwriting template. Vibe offers efficient collaboration tools to innovative teams, whether they create remotely or in-person.

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