Ditch brainstorming: Adam Grant's brainwriting revolution

Is brainstorming not helping with great ideas anymore? Try brainwriting instead.

Ditch brainstorming: Adam Grant's brainwriting revolution

Thursday December 14, 2023,

4 min Read

From boardroom meetings at a big company to association meet-ups at a small school/college- people still heavily rely on the traditional approach of brainstorming. However, according to Wharton psychologist and New York Times best-selling author Adam Grant, it is a terrible way to find new ideas or solutions to problems. Instead, he believes that the new methodology called "brainwriting" might just be the key to unlocking even greater creative potential.


Hence, in today’s article, we will explore the concept of brainwriting and dive deep into understanding how it stands out as a more effective alternative to the traditional brainstorming model.

Brainstorming and its limitations

Brainstorming has been a widely adopted go-to method for generating ideas for decades. Advertising executive Alex Osborn popularised it in the 1940s. So, the basic premise of brainstorming involves a group of individuals coming together to share ideas freely, encouraging a collaborative and non-critical environment. However, with time certain limitations associated with traditional brainstorming sessions have been revealed by researchers.


One of the primary drawbacks, according to Grant is the potential for groupthink, i.e. the loudest, most confident people in the room, or those with the most status, will tend to have their ideas dominate the conversation irrespective of the creativity of the idea. There will always be some people who will hesitate to speak up out of fear of embarrassment, to avoid interrupting someone else, or to just conform to the boss's idea or the majority opinion. 


Hence, this way of generating ideas can be disastrous, drowning out the contributions of more reserved introverted team members, favouring only the extroverted ones. This may in turn stifle the diversity and the expression of unconventional ideas. 

Adam Grant's perspective on brainwriting

Adam Grant suggests that a shift from verbal exchanges to written communication may have the potential to unlock greater creative potential. He believes that brainwriting can solve the challenges posed by traditional brainstorming. This alternative method not only emphasises inclusivity, individual reflection, and the parallel generation of ideas but also creates a more dynamic environment for innovation.

Brainwriting and the math behind it

Brainwriting is a process where employees instead of speaking their ideas, jot them down on a piece of paper anonymously. These papers are then collected by a moderator and read aloud so that the ideas can be discussed and refined and reach a consensus.  

To put it simply, brainwriting is a three-step process:

Step 1- Submission of ideas in writing

Step 2- Discuss all the ideas anonymously

Step 3- Reach a consensus to choose the best ideas

The unique advantages of brainwriting

Equal participation

Unlike traditional brainstorming sessions, brainwriting levels the playing field and ensures that all team members, regardless of their inclination towards extroversion or introversion get an equal opportunity to contribute. The process of writing ideas not only allows thoughtful consideration but also prevents the overshadowing of quieter voices.

Reduced social inhibition

Written communication drastically minimises the fear of judgment as compared to voicing it in front of the dominant ideas. This helps in fostering an environment where individuals feel comfortable sharing unconventional or "wild" ideas. This can lead to breakthrough innovations that may have been overlooked in a traditional brainstorming setting.

Enhanced focus and reflection

Brainwriting allows individuals to think more deeply about their ideas before sharing them with the group. This deliberate reflection can result in not only more refined and fully developed concepts but also more confidence in the idea ultimately improving the overall quality of the generated ideas.

Parallel idea generation

Unlike the sequential nature of verbal brainstorming, multiple ideas can be generated simultaneously by different team members in the process of brainwriting. This parallel process not only accelerates the idea generation phase but also ensures a diverse range of concepts is explored in a shorter timeframe.

Bottomline

While brainstorming has been a reliable tool for idea generation for decades, the evolution of brainwriting offers a promising alternative by addressing some of its inherent limitations. With time the value of diverse perspectives and innovative thinking is gaining prominence, the more and more companies are incorporating brainwriting into their creative processes. As Wharton psychologist Adam Grant suggests, it's high time to shift from verbal to written exchanges, so we can successfully create a more inclusive and effective approach to idea generation.