The World of Work Project

Brainwriting 3-6-5 (and Variations)

Brainwriting 365 is chained brainstorming. Each person starts with a piece of paper. They write 3 ideas on it, then pass it to the next person. They have 5 minutes to come up with more ideas, then pass it on again. This repeats 6 times. For the last round, participants circle the most exciting ideas. These are then discussed with the group.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Brainwriting (Brainstorming)

All forms of brainwriting involve pace, silence and a psychologically safe environment.

Better sharpen those pencils for all those ideas!

The pace helps ensure people capture ideas before they have time to assess or discard them.

The silence ensures that everyone can contribute equally and that groups don’t get “anchored” on ideas that get surfaced early in the process.

The psychologically safe environment makes it easier to be creative and also helps ensure that people are comfortable sharing all the ideas they come up with, no matter how “out there” they might be. 

Brainwriting 3-6-5

Brainwriting 3-6-5 is just chained brainwriting. In this version of brainwriting, you have six people working together and you are seeking to capture their combined outputs and to be as creative as possible.

The activity

There are six people taking part in this activity which is focused on coming up with solutions to a specific problem or opportunity statement. Whoever is facilitating explains the activity to the participants before the session starts, and also shares the problem statement with them.

Not that type of cards.

The activity takes place over 6 rounds and is iterative. Each person starts round one with a blank card in front of them, and the problem statement displayed somewhere in the room. The facilitator starts the round and each person then has 5 minutes to come up with 3 solutions to the problem.

Once the first round has ended, everyone passes their cards to the person to their right, so that everyone has received a new card, with 3 potential answers on it. Round two then starts and the process repeats. Each person reads the proposed solutions on their card and seeks inspiration from them, before coming up with another three potential solution.

This process repeats until every participant has seen every card and contributed 3 potential solutions to each card. By this time there will be a total of 108 solutions written down (though of course some may repeat).

Once this has happened and the cards are back with their original owners, then the last stage of the process is for each participant to read through all the solutions on the card they are holding and to choose the 3 that they think are best overall.

No, not that type either.

Each participant then shares their 3 selected solutions with the wider group and a broader discussion is undertaken so that the group can collectively decide which solution it will pursue.

Brainwriting Variations

There are several variations to this approach which can be useful for teams. Some of them are a bit simpler. We’ve briefly captured some of the variations below.

Write and Share

In the simplest version of brainwriting everyone is given a short period of time, e.g. 2 minutes, to come up with as many ideas as they can on a specific topic.

Once the time is up, the facilitator helps the contributors share and group their ideas into themes which are captured and then shared with the group.

We have also written a more detailed post on “Silent Storming” which you may wish to read.

Shared Pool

Doesn’t that pool look just lovely?

In this simple version on brainwriting, everyone in a group works towards the same problem statement.

Every time they come up with an idea they write it on a post it note or card and place it into the middle of the table. Everyone involved in the exercise can reach into the shared pool and review ideas at any time in an effort to get more inspiration for the problem.

At the end of the session, all of the pooled ideas are compiled and shared.

Pin Cards

This is another simple variation of brainwriting. In this version, a small group all work towards solving the same problem statement.

A facilitators best friend?

As they come up with ideas, individuals write them down on cards / post-it notes and place them in a pile in front of the person on their right. Any time a person needs inspiration, they can grab a card from the pin cards they’ve received and build on it / come up with new ideas based on it, and pass their idea onwards.

The World of Work Project View

We think that brainwriting or brainstorming is a great tool. The 3-6-5 variation on it is interesting, but doesn’t need to be rigidly stuck to. Some of the other variations are also interesting and worth being aware of.

The passing of cards is a nice way to create some further stimulus for those in the process though and can help lead to interesting solutions (in a similar way to the Delphi method (which we’ve yet to write about)).

Overall, we think the 3-6-5 variation is a nice tool but we’re not sure that it adds a huge amount more than silent brainstorming, at least relative to the additional effort it requires.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

The information supporting this post comes from various sources on the internet. The Brainwriting 3-6-5 approach has been attributed to Horst Geschka, a German innovation management professional. If anyone has further information about how this post should be attributed, please let us know.

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