Brainstorming is a group creativity technique wherein members discuss an issue or idea from all possible perspectives, put together a list of ideas, and through a process of dialectical synthesis attempt to find a solution or conclusion for the issue in question.
However,classical brainstorming has some important issues attached:
Danger of Brain-Drizzling: A brainstorming session can end up with a brain-drizzle (as Tim Thurson calls it in his book Think Better) if it is dominated by an outspoken minority. A skewed participation in a mixed group of introverts and extroverts can potentially annihilate the very purpose of brainstorming. Production of a large number of ideas, which is necessary to stretch the boundaries of possibilities, will thus be slowed down in the event of such brain-drizzling.
Delays Due to Serial Processing of Information: In a typical brainstorming session, participants propose idea after idea,but one at a time. Such serial processing of information cannot only affect the rate of production of ideas but also the effectiveness of creative thinking.
Non-Scalability to Large Groups: Resorting to serial processing of information also leads to incompatibility of the classical brainstorming model with a larger group. The time consumedper (produced) idea will grow exponentially in comparison to a session, where parallel processing is possible.
Inherent Promotion of a Clash of Ideas: Even though any evaluation of the ideas thus proposed is discouraged in a classical brainstorming session, the occasional clash of ideas is bound to happen regardless of the efforts of the facilitator of the session. Any lack of synergy of ideas will radically affect the outcome of a brainstorming session. Further, interpersonal conflicts among the participants can also alter the results of the session.
Pressure of Conformity: The lack of anonymity in the classical brainstorming session may usher in the pressure to conform, especially in the presence of a dominant person in the brainstorming session. Cultural differences in perceptions will often surface in classical sessions.
Ineffectiveness with Reticent Groups: If the brainstorming group consists of mostly introverts, a classical brainstorming session is doomed to fail.
Difficulty to Focus Attention: In a classical brainstorming session it is relatively difficult to retain the attention of participants. Often, those who have already made their point tend to distract themselves and others from further proceedings of the session.
Skewing of Ideas in Time: Ideas expressed in the beginning are liable to get more attention than those proposed towards the end of the session, leading to a skewing towards the initial ideas.
Promotion of Self-Censorship: If some of the ideas thus proposed have received some kind of opposition, there would emerge a kind of self-censorship among the members of the group, forcing them to withdraw themselves from proposing their ideas.
Promotion of Plagiarism: Since the ideas are expressed in the open, their authenticity can sometimes be challenged. Participants may tend to think that their ideas have beens tolen by others. Intellectual property rights are liable to be violated in a classical brainstorming session.
BRAIN-WRITING AS AN ALL-IN-ONE SOLUTION
Many of the drawbacks of a classical brainstorming session can be resolved at once by resorting to a silent version of brainstorming, which allows for parallel processing of information, called brain-writing. Originally developed by Horst Geschka and his associates at the Batelle Institute in Germany, brain-writing consists of a variety of creative-thinking techniques.
The original version of brain-writing is a simple process: Rather than requiring participants to yell out their ideas, brain-writing calls for putting them down on a sheet of paper. Participants then exchange those sheets among themselves whilst adding further ideas to the listing. Synergy is not prohibited, but encouraged.In fact, the new idea could eventually be inspired by the ideas of the neighbour. After an interval, the sheets are further exchanged and the process is repeated till the end of the stipulated time. At the end of the session, the ideas thus generated are pooled in a systematic manner and put to the vote to choose the most promising ones among them.
It is shown that brain-writing efficiently harvests the best creative ideas from the most members of the group within the shortest possible time, producing about 40 percent more ideas in quantity as well as in quality in comparison with a classical brainstorming session.
Writing one’s own ideas in silence and privacy of thought fends off negative feedback that can affect true free-wheeling. Negative feedback in the form of muttered comments, eye rolling, or sighs are thus made redundant by silent writing. It also clearly restricts any formation of political alliances or factions.
The anonymity in writing down ideas further motivates even the shyest and most anxious members of the group to express themselves without the fear of being judged. Asall members of the group jot down their ideas almost in parallel, the rate of production of ideas becomes more efficient.
The freedom to critique and/or build on each other’s ideas in writing, without fear of political or emotional ramifications, make the process of idea generation more fluent. Brain-writing is also scalable and can be adapted to a host of situations: public or private, individual or group, making it a highly flexible method over classical brainstorming. Further, since ideas are jotted down, their loss in oral transmission is also completely eliminated.
VARIANTS OF BRAIN-WRITING
In course of time,a number of variants of the original brain-writing method has emerged:
6-3-5 Brain-Writing: It isa brain-writing method which was first developed in 1968 by Bernd Rohrbach and published in a German sales magazine calledAbsatzwirtschaft. The method derivesits name from the process of idea generation adopted by the method. Here each member of a group of 6 participants (supervised by a moderator) writes down 3 ideas on a specific worksheet within 5 minutes. This means that the ideas outcome of a session consisting of just 6 rounds, during which participants swap their worksheets while passing them on to the team member sitting ontheir right, will already be 108 in number. Importantly, it is generated in a matter of 30 minutes! This technique finds applications in many spheres, including business, marketing, design, writing as well as in real-life situations.
Brain-Writing Pool: Here, each participant writes down their ideas and pools them at the centre of the table. The participants are then free to pull out any sheet of his/her choice to draw inspiration for idea generation in a second round. Participants are allowed to create new ideas or variations of original ideas or ride piggyback on existing ideas.
Constrained Brain-Writing: In this case, sheets already filled with the biasing idea are arranged on a table, from which each participant could draw a sheet of his/her choice to initiate brain-writing. For a cued brain-writing, a mild constraint with the sheets primed with one or more starting ideas are used. Whereas, in a structured brain-writing, formally headed sheets, each of them relating to a particular issue or theme, are used at the starting point.
Idea Gallery: In this variant method, instead of moving sheets containing ideas, people are asked to move around to a gallery of ideas generated in the first session of brain-writing. Participants move silently from one list to the other, silently adding their idea to the gallery of data sheets posted on the walls.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES OF BRAIN-WRITING
The brain-writing method may not work effectively with very small groups (groups with less than, say, 6 participants). Further, if the problem under consideration is a really complex problem, the solution towhich invariably requires true collaboration, brain-writing method may not be suitable. Similarly, brain-writing will naturally fail with people who are very poor at writing skills or have mixed writing skills.
Further, clarity of ideas will necessarily depend on legibility of writing, and sometimes even on handwriting. Participants do not get a chance to clarify their concepts as in classical brainstorming. Besides, the stress induced in producing a fixed number of ideas in a given time can affect the quality of ideas or ideation. Moreover, if sufficient time is not assigned fora review of the final ideas, then the whole idea-generation process can get stuck.
With all its desirable characteristics, brain-writing reigns supreme when it comes to producing a large number of creative ideas. So increasingly, classical brainstorming sessions are regularly replaced by brain-writing sessions in recent times.