By ChiChi Madu, published on January 01, 2010 - last reviewed on March 30, 2010
A typical brainstorming session can involve clashing personalities, uneven contributions, hurt egos, and hours of precious work-time wasted. Isn't there a better way for teams to come up with creative ideas? A study shows that a group technique called "brainwriting" (see below) can generate new ideas with higher quality and more efficiency than a typical free-for-all.
Peter Heslin, a business professor at Southern Methodist University and the author of the study, says brainwriting works because there's no need for facilitators and there's no "production blocking." "When you brainstorm, people have to wait a couple minutes to allow others to talk before they can reveal their ideas," he says. "People will lose confidence and start thinking their ideas are unworthy or crazy." Heslin admits brainwriting takes a lot of discipline, but organizations that can pull it off will reap tremendous benefits. Here's what a session would look like.
Everyone sits at a table with a different-color pen and a piece of paper. Each person writes an idea on the paper and passes it to the right. "Using different-color pens can be stressful, but more people participate and everyone is accountable for their ideas," Heslin says.
Read the idea or ideas on the slip you received, then add your own idea, perhaps feeding off the others. If you can't think of something, just pass it along. This keeps the creative juices flowing.
When a slip has about five ideas, retire it to the center of the table. When the slips are done, everyone analyzes them. "After the ideas are out there, there's a need for systematic consideration of each idea," he says.
Everyone makes a list of their favorite ideas. And the most popular are recorded. "When the group is committed, they are usually surprised with what they achieve."