Brainwriting: A 3-Step Approach to Generating Innovative Ideas

Beatriz Boavida
Apr 15, 2024
3 min read

Everyone knows the drill. When teams are facing a problem that requires an innovative solution, they are encouraged to gather and brainstorm to generate the most creative ideas in minimum time.

The problem is that this technique usually backfires.

Verbally exposing and discussing out-of-the-box ideas poses an obstacle to many people. As a result, many great ideas remain unspoken. This is why Adam Grant adverts leaders from resorting to such well-known technique and instead generate ideas through brainwriting.

In this article, you will learn why brainstorming may present itself as more of a problem than a solution and the 3-step formula to start leading brainwriting sessions.

The 3 problems of brainstorming

Science has proven that we are better at generating creative ideas alone than when we are in a group. This is mainly due to the following reasons:

According to Adam Grant, these obstacles are highly felt by anyone who lacks power or status - the most junior person in the room, the sole woman of colour in a team of bearded white dudes, the introvert drowning in a sea of extroverts.

When brainstorming the percentage of great ideas that are lost considerably surpasses the ones that are gained.

3-Step formula to lead a brainwriting session

Considering all the obstacles present when teams brainstorm, leaders need to create a system where their employees can generate ideas independently before having group discussions. This is the foundation of brainwriting.

Here is how you can lead a brainwriting session:

  1. Before having the meeting, send a prompt to every participant asking them to think of ideas ahead of the meeting.

  2. At the meeting, you gather all the ideas and have someone read them. The person reading shares the suggestions anonymously and the others should rate each idea on their own.

  3. When everyone has a clear stand on each idea, you can discuss, as a group, the ones that have the most potential and how they can be refined.

It is critical to not only allow participants to generate ideas independently but also to make them think and judge each idea on their own. You will get richer discussions with better insights, as employees can advance possibilities that may otherwise be overlooked.

Collective intelligence begins with individual creativity. Adam Grant

Quantity over quality

When people start using brainwriting as their go-to technique to generate creative ideas, they often run into a common challenge: They come up with a handful of ideas and then they try to refine them to find the BEST idea.

The problem is that, as Adam mentions, “the best predictor of creativity is NOT quality of ideas, it’s actually quantity”.

The first ideas you will come up with are the ones closest to your reality, to what you know is possible. Hence, they are the most conventional. To unleash your innovative ideas you need to come up with dozens of ideas, enough to ensure you run the conventional ones out.

Your first 20 ideas are less creative than your next 15. If you want to max out on creativity, you need 200 ideas on the table. Adam Grant

Key takeaways

Brainstorming does not maximise collective intelligence. Instead, it gives the spotlight to the biggest egos, the loudest voices, and the most powerful people.

If you truly aim to generate innovative solutions, you need to ensure you are not losing ideas beforehand due to group thinking, noise, or fear of judgement.

Brainwriting allows you to bring all voices to the table, generating more creative ideas and insightful discussions. You can start leading brainwriting sessions in your team with these 3 steps:

  1. Before the meeting, ask participants to come up with creative ideas.

  2. During the meeting, have someone read through every idea and ask participants to rate them individually.

  3. Come together as a group and discuss which ideas have greater potential and how you can refine them.

And remember, you want to have dozens of ideas first, before starting to refine them.

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