Brainwriting vs Brainstorming

Tod's picture

This article illuminates a fact that most of us are probably aware of, but rarely consider as a social phenomenon: that in a brainstorming session (or, one might argue, in a collaborative storytelling session), early speakers gain a significant advantage in having their ideas "anchored" and accepted as fundamental to the group idea, just as frequent speakers do in freeform group conversations. "Early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation," [says] Loran Nordgren, a professor at the Kellogg School. "They establish the kinds of norms, or cement the idea of what are appropriate examples or potential solutions for the problem."

Certainly there are many game situations in which turn order is intended to grant exactly that privilege, with later ideas following upon and building off of earlier ones. The step-by-step formation of time-bound narratives is one such area. But in other situations - when open, spontaneous and egalitarian idea generation is the intention - this "anchoring" of early ideas may cause undesired effects.

The solution put forward in the article is called "Brainwriting", in which participants silently write down their ideas before collecting and revealing them all at once. This technique gives everyone at the table an equal chance to have their idea accepted on its own merit, rather than how well it fits in with things already said. Depending on the intended nature and flow of idea-generation used in your collaborative game, you may want to consider giving brainwriting a try.

Tod's picture

I should note that the video accompanying the article states that the brainwriters should not sign their ideas, nor indicate their identity on the cards. The facilitator collects them and pins them all on a board (or lays them out on a table) all at once. It shouldn't be a "here's MY idea" situation. It's a "pool of ideas" situation.

After they're laid out, they can be discussed, voted upon, clustered, etc.

Paul T.'s picture

This is pretty important stuff! And, yes, it has serious implications for all kinds of play and design. Lots to ponder here!

There are other advantages and disadvantages to ordered vs. simultaneous creation/brainstorming, too, like whether you seek coherence of ideas or are trying intentionally to create the unexpected through clashes and mismatches.

DeReel's picture

.. is a game that has both, but I feel they are not easily balanced :
Story seeds ("memory triggers") are made with brainwriting and scene framing with brainstorming.
In practice, I find story seeds are much more innocuous than scene framing, probably because they are not coupled to much, whereas scene framing questions align, bind, and "close doors" one after the other.

I think the same happens in "Palette mode" : when you're proposing an idea, it can be debated, but when it has been "covered" (like a card in trick taking games is covered by another one), it's not only socially uneasy to take it back : it's practically problematic. So, what brainwriting does is a specific case of "unlinking", "unbounding" of ideas. I think this is a good mechanic to use in a game that already uses post its, index cards or a deck of cards. My own "discovery lottery" for a tomb raider adventure game tried to do that with post its.

Brainwriting is typically useful for protecting snowflakes, and goes against a culture of assertivity (=dominance). Because I got stuck into accessibility issues (houses where it's hard to find pens and paper) I now think the best is to start with printed cards, and play until people "spontaneously" want to make their own, like For the Queen did. Meanwhile, we play with post its : they have the eye candy colours and stay on the table. My only regret : you can't hold'em like a poker hand.

@Paul_T , it's true that brainwriting will bring mismatches : sewing machines and umbrellas on surgery tables. All story games have this part of storytelling challenge. To minimize this, the idea is (simply ?) to have a selection phase after brainwriting. If it's only contrary ideas like "cold setting" / "hot setting", that's really a case of convergence ("extreme temperature setting"), and it's settled in a matter of seconds in my experience. Real narrative "clashes" on the other hand, are more often players taking the narrative challenge into "take that" territory (my guilty pleasure).