The word "brainstorm" was invented long before scientists were able to understand how the brain actually works. It was meant as a random and serendipitous exchange of ideas. Someone usually jumps to a whiteboard and writes down the ideas, but there's always been something a bit suspect about these sessions. Do they really help people generate ideas? Is there a better way to document the activity? Are some brainstorming sessions even a total waste of time?
Enter the idea of brainwriting. Using apps that are designed to create some structure, you work as a group to thoroughly document, on a set time schedule, create ideas.
According to Susan Robertson, a strategist and trainer who also teaches at Harvard University, the technique is more important than the apps. There's the obvious brainstorming benefits that help people think out of the box and piggy-back one idea off another. Yet, she says brainwriting taps into a deeper scientific concept.
"These tools actually make something physically different happen in our brains," she says. "Our brains have neural pathways--literally the connections between neurons. We have very well worn pathways in our brains, and without outside stimulus, our brains will continue to travel these same, well-worn pathways over and over again. The use of outside stimulus, like creative thinking tools, forces our brains to literally create new pathways, which creates novel ideas."
She mentioned a few helpful tools. She wasn't a fan of Stormboard, an online app that documents brainstorming sessions, but said it could be useful. She's also tried Facilitate Pro, which can be used for brainwriting but is more suited to normal idea generation meetings. Her favorite app is called Stormz because it has the best tools for collaboration and voting. She also mentioned how the app requires some significant training to understand all of the features.
The one app she didn't mention is called Tecmark 635. It's based on the idea of timing the brainwriting activity, which involves actual writing in private during the session.
The description on the company website explains it succinctly:
"Each person is given five minutes to write three answers to the problem. After five minutes, each person passes their worksheet clockwise. After five more five-minute rounds, you're done. Every five minutes the team produces 18 ideas, bringing the final tally to 108 in just 30 minutes."
That's an amazing output in just 30 minutes--a total of 108 ideas from a group. To me, it makes all of the difference between brainstorming and brainwriting. I've sat in meetings where a brainstorming session ended with a few good ideas, many average ideas, and a wide assortment of bad ideas. Someone takes a picture of a whiteboard and forgets all about the session. With the Tecmark 635 app, there's no possibility of wasting time, because everything is documented and timed.
It's an app made to fire up the neurons of any group.