How to Brainstorm with Introverts

brainwritingIn a few days, my fledgling game company will have a visioning session to discuss where we are today, where we want to be in 5 years, and how to get there.

A key part of the session will be open brainstorming from participants. I love open brainstorming, especially when you can feel the creative energy flowing in the room.

Until recently I was only aware of one general type of brainstorming. There are variations on it, but the basic idea is what we’re all probably familiar with: an open forum for people to shout out ideas.

However, as a recent article on Fast Company pointed out, there are a few downsides to verbal brainstorming. The first is that while one person is talking, other people are thinking. Your attention is divided between listening and thinking, so you’re not able to fully focus on either without ignoring the other.

The second is that the first few ideas mentioned get a disproportionate amount of attention compared to the ideas that follow. That can be a big problem, because often the first few ideas mentioned aren’t even close to being the best ideas. Also, it’s extroverts who usually shout out those first ideas, so ideas from introverts are left in the dust.

Fortunately, the article offers a great solution that we plan to implement at our visioning session. It’s called brainwriting. Again, there are variations on it. The version we’re trying is that everyone gets a pad of post-it notes, and they’re given the freedom to write any idea they want to discuss further. As people write, the moderator picks up the ideas and sticks them to a whiteboard, saying the idea out loud. That way everyone has the time to think of their own ideas, but there is a shared sense of creativity and imagination.

As an introvert, I much prefer this concept of brainwriting, and I can’t wait to try it. Have you ever tried a variation of this at your workplace?

11 thoughts on “How to Brainstorm with Introverts”

  1. We actually did this at work at a customer forum. It was a very complex piece of software with only 13 customers, each with representatives that attended an annual convention put on by my company. We had an all day meeting to discuss what new features they would like to see added over the coming year. The sticky notes worked great, and we also distributed pieces of paper marked 1-10 on them. After writing down ideas, we engaged with them in a negotiation of sorts, and then they voted. They could put all of their points on one idea, or even trade points with the other customer reps. It was a great atmosphere, and helped bridge the requirement gap, as they sometimes had extremely different needs.

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    • Joel: Thanks for sharing your experience with this method of brainstorming. I like the addition of the notes to vote–I could see that removing some of the peer pressure to go with the idea that people are most vocal about.

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  2. I really like this idea of sticky notes making sure all voices are heard. I will keep this in mind for future meetings with our even more fledglinger game company. Not that any of us has any problem speaking to one another.

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  3. Have you heard of the round robin approach? It’s similar to what Joel said, except no negotiation and trade points. I did it once in college. We have a topic in class as a whole, broke up into groups of four, each of us made a list, and went around the circle to discuss our ideas one idea, one person at a time until we are out of ideas. Each group had a sub-list to present to the class, the whole class vote, and made a master list with top ideas. Discuss those ideas and vote again with our eyes close this time. We have our best idea(s) as a class of 24 in about an hour to two. It was timed, but you can make it not timed. And depending the number of people as a whole group, breaking into smaller groups might not be needed.

    I personally like this a lot. I get to voice without getting too nervous and end up mumbling in front of a large group or over voiced by someone. It was neat to see so many ideas for one topic and we had same or similar ideas as a sub-group and as a whole. We air high-fived when that happened. Awesome brainwaves buddies. 🙂

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  4. I think brainstorming is best when you’re in the purely exploratory phase and seeking long-range goals. I’ve had problems with brainstorming in my professional life where (1) as you mentioned, people are paying attention to their own ideas and feel its impolite to bat down others’ ideas, and (2) where the one who starts is the one everyone is afraid to nay-say (amazing how often the CEO comes up with an idea that everyone loves). You have the unique and wonderful position of allowing everyone to be completely honest, and expecting nothing less. That will help brainstorming work here.

    I’m reading a book about a technique that’s more debate-based. Instead of tossing many ideas out there, participants are asked to shoot down each new idea as it arises. Is it nice but impossible? Don’t spend time on it. Is there no way the financing would work? Let it go. The idea is that the banter helps winnow that brainstorm down into a very localized intense lightning strike that finds its target. This is from the perspective of a company who is given a product and 48 hours to figure out how to sell it. Slightly different from what you’re doing and having a different purpose, but it can be effective in that situation.

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    • JT: Very interesting. In some ways, that sounds like the exact opposite of brainstorming–you’re cutting off ideas before they have a chance to breathe. It does seem more efficient, but I wonder if it eliminates all of the positive effects of brainstorming.

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      • You know, it is very counter-intuitive. I’m reading partly to see how effective the approach is, especially since it’s the start of their business model. It may be one of those purple squirrels that works extraordinarily well because all circumstances are met. i imagine it would not work with every group of people. Individual personalities may chafe under such an environment – and you need a group of people who relate well enough to give and accept criticism at the most nascent stage of generating their ideas. In my experience, introverts prefer to think before speaking while extroverts prefer to think while speaking, so a discussion where the rule is “speak first” plays to the strengths of some to the discomfort of others.

        I thought about this a bit and came back with how it might be constructive. Begin with an idea, and examine that idea in light of certain situations with the express purpose of helping to flesh out the idea more (rather than shoot it down). That seems more like a second-stage of brainstorming. For example, during a brainstorm you come up with five under-utilized themes and go into the second stage by asking “Who will be interested in a worker-placement game with this theme? Who will be interested in a light, casual card game with this theme?” This way, the criticism isn’t meant to stop thinking, but rather to focus it – what kind of mechanics would you put in a My Little Pony-themed worker placement game aimed at fathers of girls under the age of 8?

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