Brainstorming is a very powerful method for generating lots of ideas very quickly about almost any problem or issue that needs an innovative or creative solution. However, brainstorming is also a very fragile process. It is intended to be a very free flowing non-judgmental exchange and list generator that sparks everyone’s creative fires but at times that is very difficult to achieve in an organized public meeting.

There are lots of distractions in most meeting situations. What another person says more often than not funnels down everyone else’s thinking rather than opening it up. There are almost always dominant and passive personalities in any given meeting situation. People who are normally afraid to speak in a meeting will often shut down completely during a brainstorming session. Only one person at a time can effectively speak in a group meeting and unfortunately that blocks other people from talking. The bigger the group, the bigger the blocking problem. Of course there is always someone in the group who will do and say whatever it takes to please the boss. Once that person speaks up others will be hard pressed to do anything but agree. We tend to think of groups as more effective than each individual but the power of social pressure and conformity is usually counter to the process of brainstorming. We may get a warm group feeling about the social exchange that goes on during a public brainstorming meeting but the reality is it usually stifles creativity.

To help overcome these problems a better method of brainstorming was created called brainwriting. As the name implies, you write out your ideas rather than speak them out. Extensive research and testing has shown that brainwriting generates 40 percent more creative ideas compared to traditional brainstorming. That is a huge increase.

The way it works is before the meeting starts blank forms are made that have the problem definition written at the top and a table below for listing ideas. You need at least one sheet of this form for every person that attends the meeting. There are a lot of different ways to come up with a form that makes sense for the problem you are dealing with but a common procedure is called brainwriting 6-3-5.

The 6-3-5 stands for 6 people, 3 ideas per person in 5 minutes. The table on the form is 3 columns wide with plenty of width for writing down the ideas. Number the columns idea 1, idea 2 and idea 3. Make the table 6 rows down the page for the 6 different people. When the meeting starts you divide the people up into groups of 6. Each person takes a sheet and takes 5 minutes to write out 3 ideas in the first row on the form to help solve the problem statement. Don’t put your name on the sheet. Then you exchange your sheet with someone else. Either give your sheet to the person on your right or put the six sheets in a pile in the middle of the table and randomly take one from the pile. Then take the next 5 minutes to add 3 more ideas to the next row on the new sheet. You can use the ideas that are already on the sheet to stimulate new ideas or create new ideas of your own, whichever works best for you. After doing this for 30 minutes you will have a total of 108 ideas from each group of 6 people.

Source by Michael Russell

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