ThinkOTB Agency

Brainstorming doesn’t work… so what does?

April 21, 2021

Ideas are king in every business. They inspire new products, new ways of working and new visions to drive companies forward. So what’s the best way for marketing agencies, marketing departments, and businesses in all sectors to generate ideas that are new, lucrative, and that come from every level of the organisation?

Let’s have a brainstorm to answer that!

A group brainstorm is the go-to way that businesses solve problems and generate ideas. By ‘getting all our heads on it’ and declaring ‘no idea is a bad idea’, the theory is that we’ll spark ideas in each other and collectively create one strong idea.

Being innovation marketing specialists, at ThinkOTB we know that brainstorming doesn’t work. These long sessions often become a power struggle. The most popular or senior team members tend to take the floor. Less experienced or more introverted people withhold their ideas. Some take the session as an opportunity to ease off the ideas pedal. Also, as most of us fear being laughed at, we often only voice mediocre or safe ideas. What was an innovative technique is now stifling innovation. So, what are our thoughts on what does work?

Brainwriting, not brainstorming

We use different parts of the brain when we’re communicating, in social situations and under pressure to when we’re working alone and concentrating on one task. Our Innovation Facilitators always recommend to our clients that they generate ideas using brainwriting. A brainwriting session starts in the same way as brainstorming. A group of colleagues are briefed on a challenge and they are given time to ask questions and debate the topic. Then brainwriting takes a very different path to brainstorming.

Each participant is given a piece of paper and 3-5 minutes to work individually, writing down up to 5 ideas. Then each participant hands their sheet to the person next to them. This new pair of eyes adds to the idea or writes down another idea which was sparked by the first person’s solution. This process is repeated until everyone in the room has seen, shared and strengthened every idea.

The group then share all the ideas in one place (virtual whiteboard or Post Its on a wall). Only then do they discuss which idea stood out, and which could be developed into a serious innovation.

Why brainwriting does work

This solitary, focused approach to idea generation is a hugely helpful tool for groups where there are strong personalities, tight time-constraints, and no experienced moderator. Brainwriting:

  • Produces more diverse and creative ideas than brainstorming, because no-one’s name is attached to the piece of paper or the idea
  • Removes social anxiety and competing personalities so that everyone can participate freely
  • Gives equal weight to every idea rather than creating the ‘group-think’ consensus around the first few ideas in brainstorming
  • Generates more ideas because everyone writes down their ideas at the same time so you get five ideas from five participants (totalling 25 ideas) in the first five minutes alone.

Brainwriting is just one of a wide range of creative thinking techniques we use. Our Innovation Hub shares ideas that enable our clients to drive innovation in their organisations.