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Brainstorming, Brainwriting, and Collaborative Mind Mapping

Ever been to a horrible brainstorming meeting?

Brainstorming is a powerful method for quickly generating lots of ideas about almost any problem or issue that needs an innovative solution. It’s also reported as one of the most common ways individuals use mind mapping.

However, team brainstorming sessions often fail. They’re intended to be free flowing non-judgmental exchanges that spark everyone’s creativity but at times that extremely difficult to achieve in team meetings.

Here are a couple of examples that illustrate why brainstorming is often ineffective. First, it’s easy for members of a group to remain creatively passive while others toss ideas around – this is also referred to as social loafing. It’s also common for group members to worry that their ideas will attract critical and negative comments leading them to withhold contributing their input.

Brainwriting reported to be more effective than brainstorming

Brainwriting aims to avoid some of these issues and is designed to encourage all group members to engage with each others’ ideas. The technique, often used in marketing, advertising, design, writing and product development, was originally developed by Professor Bernd Rohrbach in 1968. Brainwriting and brainstorming share the common focus on the quantity of new ideas, not the quality.

Technique 1: Briefly, it involves group members writing down ideas in silence. Group members traditionally pass slips of paper between each other, reading others’ ideas and then inserting their own. When everyone in the group has had a chance to add an idea onto the paper, it is placed in the centre of the table for all to see. The process is then repeated as many times as desired. The next step involves group members individually recalling as many of the ideas generated so far as possible which encourages attention to the ideas generated. The final step involves group members working alone for 15 minutes to individually generate even more ideas.

Technique 2: Another variation of brainwriting is also referred to as Method 635. It involves 6 participants that generate 3 ideas every 5 minutes. Participants are encouraged to draw on others’ ideas for inspiration, thus stimulating the creative process. After 6 rounds in 30 minutes the group has thought up a total of 108 ideas.

Initial research has demonstrated the technique generates more ideas than the more conventional group brainstorming. To learn more, you can check out business psychologist Peter Heslin’s research in the journal Occupational and Organizational Psychology.

Reader Questions:

  • Is brainwriting a viable alternative to brainstorming?
  • Can it be improved with collaborative mind maps (e.g. multiple people editing and updating the idea map at the same time)?

In other words, can six of us, gather together in the same room or on opposite sides of the planet and work our way around a map, expanding upon each other’s ideas within a branch and moving on to the next branch to add yet another idea on a different thread.

Share your ideas and feedback below.

About the Author: Michael Deutch is Mindjet’s Chief Evangelist, content contributor for the Mindjet Blog and the Mindjet Connections newsletter. Get more from Michael on Twitter.

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