108 Ideas in 30 Minutes with 6-3-5 Brainwriting

635 Brainwriting

Last week at MozCon, I heard so many great tips that I can’t wait to try out at work; I’ll be sharing a lot of lessons learned on the blog in the coming months as my brain slowly reforms to its original shape from the mushy pile of whatever it became. Today, I want to share the 6-3-5 method of brainstorming (or “6-3-5 Brainwriting”). This concept was slightly familiar to me already, but never by it’s official name. It’s not a complicated idea by any means, but most of my brainstorming experiences have been vocal group sessions (some successful, some not-so) so I absolutely fell in love with the idea of this 6-3-5 method. If you’re quiet or nervous in groups like I am, sharing ideas out loud can sometimes cause a rapid heart beat and profuse sweating in the hands and armpits followed by complete mortification. So thanks to @staceycav for introducing this activity to me.


In 1968, German professor Bernd Rohrbach came up with the brainstorming technique that ends with 108 ideas in 30 minutes. The purpose here is the amount of ideas, not the quality of ideas. (Out of curiosity, I tried to find more information on Rohrbach in a short amount of time, but the Internet failed me on this one.)

What you’ll need

  • 30 minutes
  • 6 participants (a moderator is optional – someone just needs to keep an eye on the clock)
  • 6 pieces of paper (a printed template works well here and there are a number of these available online)

How it works

  • Identify your problem statement (Example: How can we improve our social media program?)
  • In 5 minutes, each person writes 3 ideas on the worksheet
  • After the 5 minutes, pass your sheet to your neighbor
  • Expand on the three initial ideas from your colleague or add new ones
  • The sheets are passed 5 times
  • In the end you will have 6 sheets with 18 ideas for a total of 108 unique ideas or variations of ideas

Now what?

After the 108 ideas are complete and everyone has his or her original form back, the ideas can be written on sticky notes and the team can work together to sort them into like categories (referred to as the cluster analysis technique). You might see a pattern develop and there will most likely be overlapping ideas. You should end up with only a few big ideas and those can be your jumping off point for your project.

Isn’t that the simplest thing you’ve ever heard!? You could also figure out a way to do this via Google Docs if you have remote employees. But it’s a bit trickier to keep straight and the in person component is important, especially once you start clustering the ideas. But, give it a shot with video conferencing.

There are many different brainstorming techniques out there; but what I like about this one is that it forces everyone to take part where vocal brainstorming can leave the loudest person in the room dominating the discussion. It also forces you to stay on topic.

A couple of downsides to this activity are: 1) you have to be concise, which may be difficult for some, and 2) the time limit might be too short for some to develop thoughts thoroughly. If it helps, share your topic with the team ahead of time so they can develop their original three ideas in advance and the time may be better spent. I suggest trying it both ways and see which works best for your group.

I know I can’t wait to try it. Happy brainwriting! I’d love to hear about your experiences with brainstorming and other techniques that have worked well for you. Leave a comment and let me know!

This post is with pork loin in a crock pot, with Lima beans and applesauce. You’ll notice a correlation between crock pots and blog posts. 



  1. I’m really glad you found this useful 🙂

    Thank you so much for sharing the idea. It’s been really useful for us. In a single session we can come out with enough content ideas to see us through 6 months sometimes!

    Please do let me know how you get on when you try this. I’m always genuinely interested to find out how other people’s experiences with it are.



    1. Thanks for your comment Stacey! I loved your presentation; I constantly suffer from creativity atrophy after sitting in a cubicle all day, so I welcome any tips on getting the juices flowing and cranking out some ideas. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to try this soon and I’ll definitely let you know how it goes.


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