Tag Archives: brainwriting

Beginning, middle & end – with a twist

Remember playing the game “Consequences” at school? Here’s a twist on the Brainwriting tool, inspired by that playground game. I designed it for TV drama producers but it works really well for any kind of imaginative storytellers.

Everyone starts with their own grid of nine boxes on a big piece of paper, but the first row is labelled “Beginning”, the middle row is called “Middle” and the last row is “End”.

Everyone starts silently writing three different beginnings for a character’s story.  These could be an accident, a lottery win, a death in the family – what writers call an “inciting incident” or trigger. When you’ve got three, you put your paper in the middle of the table and swap with someone else.

Pick up the new sheet and read someone else’s “Beginnings”. Now write down your ideas for how the character reacts. Finish all three “Middles” and pass the paper back, then pick up another.

Now you’re on the “Ends”. Read someone else’s Beginning and Middle – then work out how this mini story-arc could resolve? When everyone’s finished, get people to share their favourite story arcs with the group.

Horst Geschka invented Brainwriting to help engineers innovate their products. I gave it a twist for a colleague who makes TV soap opera – and guess what, it works well for both.

Happy endings all round!

(Over a hundred more techniques like this one in my new book Be Creative Now!)

Six ways brainstorms fail

Ever since brainstorms were invented they’ve had their detractors. I’m sure ‭you’ve sat through plenty of bad ones (excruciating) or good ones which achieved nothing (frustrating). Here’s why academics say brainstorms fail – and here’s what I reckon, from  my experience, you can do about it.

Problem: Free-riders – ‭can sit back and let ‭everyone else in a group do the work. People think there’s nothing at stake and so don’t take it ‭seriously.

Fix: Break larger groups into subgroups ‭of two to four people during the brainstorm. It is much harder to free-ride in a smaller group. Build in feedback time. If people know they will have to ‭share, test or pitch their ideas ‭at the end of a session, they pay ‭more attention.

Problem: Fixation – participants fix on weak ‭ideas because they ‭don’t know enough about the subject.

Fix – Set ‘homework’ in advance so that everyone arrives at the session ‭properly briefed with good data.

Problem: Social matching – we have a natural tendency to conform with out peers and bosses.

Fix: try Brainwriting techniques which allow ‭‘weaker’ voices to be heard. ‭Devil’s advocate techniques make it ok to break away from an apparent consensus.

Problem: Safety first – people who think their ideas will be judged won’t volunteer unusual or wild ideas.

Fix: explicitly encourage wild ideas during ‭the divergent or playful phase. ‭Reassure more sceptical members ‭of the group that wild ideas can be ‭tamed in the convergent or serious phase.

Problem: Production blocking – listening to someone else’s idea stops you realising your own.

Fix: Use silent techniques and small group discussions.

Problem: ‭Cognitive overload – there’s too much ‭chatter for people to think clearly.

Fix: Build in plenty of breaks which allow people to ‘incubate’ their own ideas.


Credit: ‭Kohn, N. and Smith, S.M. (2011) Collaborative fixation: Effects of others’
‭ideas on brainstorming, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25(3), 359–371.