Rapid Flow with Feedback

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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Windtunnel has become a favorite process among many of the creativity experts and creative problem-solving professionals who have experienced it during the several years since we invented it. As a result, there are several versions of it floating around among other programs, and as the method evolved we ourselves have published several versions of it. Here is the most up-to-date and, we believe, most effective present working version and now official version of this extraordinarily productive and energizing process.

Windtunnel works best as a partnered method, or with pairs partnered within a group. Because it gets so lively, it provides a great way to start a conference, colloquium, training group or workshop. Also quite productive, Freenoting works well with pen and notepad, or on a computer keyboard. The full instructions for how to do both are here, adapted from the CoreBook, The Creative Problem-Solving Tool Kit.

With each of these methods will be a section on the rationale or explanation; a brief statement of its purpose; the steps of the procedure itself; and aftermath.

WINDTUNNEL: an especially energizing version of the brainstorming method for ingeniously solving problems

Windtunnel Explanation

The problems you and we are attempting to solve now, did not solve based upon what you know about the problem, and if not solved by now despite good efforts, they probably won’t solve based upon what you know. There, what you know about the problem is getting in the way between you and the fresh perceptions wherein you will find real solution. Scientific research in brainstorming has demonstrated that the best ideas occur near the end of a brainstorming session, after you’ve used up what you think you know and still have to keep reaching for more. Both the aptly-named Windtunnel and its counterpart Freenoting as described afterward below are especially strong, rapid ways to use up what you know so that you have to reach out for more. That is when the really interesting ideas start happening.

Purpose and General Strategy of Windtunnel

Contrasted to ordinary discussions, where you usually have to wait your turn to slip in any ideas, with Windtunnel one has to answer on the topic for 12 straight minutes — rapidly, without pause or hesitation! — and generally not repeating yourself. Your listening partner will record elements of your deluge, as described below. The purpose of Windtunnel is to get you, as quickly as possible, to the point where you run out of things to say — and then have to keep going, not letting on that you’ve run out of things to say! Keep going without relenting until your facilitator calls time. Then you and your partner can compare notes on what you think were the most interesting ideas that happened.

Windtunnel Procedure

Everyone will be paired with a partner. Have with you several sheets of paper and a pen or pencil.

Determine and write down the question, problem, opportunity or challenge you would most dearly love to find good answer to. (About 2 minutes)

What are three specific aspects about that issue? Please write these down in turn as questions. See if you can make these three new questions more specific and, if possible, more powerful to ask, than the original question. This in itself is a good start to problem-solving because it has you doing something TO the problem instead of the other way around. It’s a start and in itself may get new ideas flowing that you might quickly jot down on the side. Number these three new questions.

Be with your partner for this occasion. Between you, quickly choose which of you goes first as Listener-Recorder and the other first as Windtunneler.

Facilitator arbitrarily picks and announces the number of the question the Windtunneler is to answer.

Windtunneler:   answer in a descriptive rapid-flow torrent, without pause or hesitation, and without repeating yourself much, telling everything that comes to mind in the context of that question. Sustain that flow for twelve minutes without any let-up. When you finally run out of things to say and reach the flounder-around-and-dig stage, keep on going without letting on that you’ve reached that point. Don’t edit or judge, just flow rapidly for the twelve minutes until facilitator calls time.

Listener:   Be there for your Windtunneling partner, if need be encourage him to continue but don’t interrupt or interject your own thoughts. Your main job is to listen, and to jot down two to four of the most interesting ideas you hear going by; not necessarily the best, and not necessarily not the best, just the most interesting ideas. Don’t try to capture them all — that effort would only slow your partner down when we really want to keep up the speed — just capture, as best you can out of the torrent, the ideas that are most interesting. (12 minutes or even a little longer, as determined by the Facilitator on how productively things are flowing.)

Then, for just a half-minute or so, Windtunnelers make notes on what were the most interesting ideas they heard pass their own lips. Listeners consolidate and flesh out their own notes. Windtunneler and Listener compare notes on the most interesting ideas heard between them. (4 to 5 minutes)

Between you, create a new and more powerful question from the context that you have developed in this experience.

All notes from this experience belong to the person who Windtunneled. Please transfer these into the Windtunneler’s possession.

Reverse roles — the previous Windtunneler becomes the new Listener, the former Listener becomes the new Windtunneler. Facilitator will announce which question is to be answered this time. Please repeat Steps 4 through 8 so that both of you have both sides of this experience, and both of you have had this chance to gain fresh insights and possible answers on the most important question or challenge of your choice.

Windtunnel Aftermath

Check yourself through on the following questions. Some of them will likely be discussed between you in small groups and/or generally.

  1. Did you get fresh insights and ideas about the issue you worked on?
  2. Did you feel that your partner was really listening to you, really hearing you? What made you feel that way or the other way?
  3. If ‘B’ was positive: How did it feel to you to have someone really hearing you, really listening to you, on a matter that was important to you?
  4. What do you think might be some of the effects of having someone really hearing you and listening to you on important matters?
  5. What are some other things one can say or do to cause his partner to feel he’s really being heard and listened to?

If you value the effects you cited in D, can you and your small-group teammates fashion a list or prescription? Title of the prescription: “These are the ways to make someone feel really heard and meaningfully listened to.”

  • You may be asked to present your list.
  • You might want to make note, at the bottom of your list, for your ownsubsequent use,of an idea or so from what other groups present of their own lists.
  • You might want to experiment with some or all of your list, over the next few days or weeks, with others here in the group with whom you are exploring this method and with others not present here, not only to gain more traction on your own issues but to see what positive effects you can have on others around you.

Our intention with each of these procedures is not only to help you generate fresh ideas, understandings of, and even if possible effective solutions to, one or more of your major challenges. We also have you learning these several methods by experience, hands-on so to speak, so that you can go on surmounting your challenges with these and further tools, long past the walls of this workshop or exploratory group or training group or party today.

Save and keep handy the more powerful question you created from the context you built while you were Windtunneling. You can get to use it with other, different, problem-solving methods, those taught from the Project Renaissance context and/or other methods besides. We have been finding that combining different problem-solving methods is usually well more powerful than any one particular method — and in any case, it is good to have more than one method, one program, in your toolkit ready to use.

Using such a method to figure out things when you are alone

Having an external focus to which to project and describe your thoughts, observations and ideas is crucial to developing your awarenesses. The strongest development of your awarenesses is when you have a live listener really hearing you. If this is a listener you respect, you are on your good behavior in your describing; you don’t take short-cuts or slur over aspects; you are stating as fully and clearly as you can to communicate experience and sometimes-subtle perceptions to that meaningful listener, and this focuses you into examining and perceiving those awarenesses more fully and clearly than would otherwise be the case.

The reality of our modern lives, though, has us working alone much of the time, sometimes in conditions which make it more difficult to round up a meaningful listener each time we need one to help us figure things out. Yet you can still use some of the same dynamics as you are experiencing with the Windtunnel method, even without a meaningful, live listener. Use an audio recorder.

An audio recorder is less effective than a live listener, but far better than nothing, and often a lot more conveniently to hand. The difference in effectiveness is made up for by going longer — it takes about sixteen minutes of torrential outpouring into an audio recorder to reach the same point of fresh insights and ideas that you get with a live listener in twelve minutes in Windtunnel. And it takes more self-discipline to keep on going without pauses with that audio recorder than with the meaningful listener there trying to take in what you are saying. It may help you to imagine, or even determine, that you will have some particular person as a meaningful listener listen later to the audio that you are recording — that will help you focus. These sessions do take some effort, as you’ve discovered with Windtunnel; the time and effort you invest in them you want to be as effective as possible in generating new insights and ideas, so shaping that external focus is very much worth your while.

One other drawback to an audio recorder is retrieval of your data afterward, more difficult than if your meaningful listener were already writing down the high points of your outpouring.

One new advantage would be to HAVE a meaningful listener and to USE an audio recorder at the same time. This would give you extra focus, and you would have also that comparison of notes featured in the partnered Windtunnel along with the convenient retrieval of your data, and you would have the audio besides which you could at leisure play back to capture additional insights from.

Having a meaningful reader can provide you a nice external focus also for developing your awarenesses in whatever context. Some of you are more comfortable writing, privately at your own desk, while others of you are more comfortable speaking aloud as in Windtunnel. Here is a process called Freenoting, which does for writing some of what Windtunnel does for talking…

FREENOTING — the twin and counterpart of Windtunnel


Like Windtunnel, and like Alex Osborn’s original Brainstorming from which both Windtunnel and Freenoting have descended, one gets to the fresh perceptions and insights he needs by working his way past all the knowledge he already has on the challenge, question, problem or topic at hand, using it up by expressing it as fast as he can think of it until that previous knowledge and assumption is all used up. Then, by the effort of keeping going and not letting on that one has reached that flounder-around-and-dig stage, one more readily reaches out and casts in new directions trying to find anything that will help keep that outpouring going.

For your ongoing practice, the instructions you have along with your experience from Windtunnel should help you with Freenoting just as your instructions for Freenoting should likely help you with subsequent rounds of Windtunnel. Our concern here is not only to help you solve a meaningful problem or so but to build skills and methods you can take with you and practice further, on as many issues as you find to work on.

Purpose and General Strategy of Freenoting

You need to be free to entertain any hypothesis, even if it’s one you’ve come up with yourself, enough at least to check it out. The purpose of Freenoting is to enable you to come up with hypotheses very different from those you ordinarily would coax from already-too-cultivated grounds, to see with fresh eyes a topic or even a field whose very familiarities are preventing you from discovering fresh answers. Freenoting is like a brainstorm in that you use it to generate a very high volume of output, initially without critical judgment. Critical judgment is essential, but bring it in later and separately, as a distinctly separate step. Some of that output may be throw-away, but some of it is valuable ideas and notions you might never have gotten to otherwise.

Your rapid discourse without much repetition onto a note pad or computer keyboard if you type fast enough, as with telling it out loud to an audio tape or a live listener, quickly uses up all that you’d normally say in the context. The continued rapid-flow demand of your flow will force you to draw upon resources beyond your stock conscious knowledge.

Force yourself to go on without pause or hesitation, force a vacuum into which can upwell some astonishing insights and relatings. Many of these will prove to be remarkably valid and original.

The key is to flow and sustain that flow. Flow faster than you can stop to consciously think what should come next. You’ve got to keep pumping without letup in order to keep up a good head of vacuum pulling up previously unconsidered associations and data.

Freenoting Procedure

Keep that uncritical effusive flow going, without let-up. Rapidly write or type without pause for 15-30 minutes, in the general context but without much concern as to whether what you are writing is indeed in the context.

Don’t edit. If it occurs to you, get it down on paper or into the computer, without hesitation, and keep going. Don’t fear absurdity. Less of this output will be absurd than you might think! Some of what at first seems the most absurd will turn out to have some of the most original and valid elements of value somewhere embedded in it. In Brainstorming per se, facilitators and participants are advised to be alert for any idea which results in a burst of laughter because, so frequently, the most absurd idea turns out to be a genius-level superb idea in disguise, once examined.

Don’t repeat too much. Keep reaching for something different to say in the context. But don’t hang up over whether you’ve said something before; there may be a new association there with that old point. If it comes to mind, say it, get it down, get it expressed and recorded.Freenote without concern as to something being correct or accurate. Get it all down where you can look at it. Do your editing later, maybe even your secretive shredding later, but definitely not during this torrential flow. Free up as completely as you can during these free-noting intervals to avoid editing your own thoughts and perceptions, by effusing as torrentially as possible.

Your current ongoing perceptions will be somewhat more productive of fresh insights than is your stock of knowledge. We very much need knowledge, but we can’t let that become static in a changing universe. Ongoing perception is our window on ever-evolving infinity. Lean your attention somewhat, without editing, toward your ongoing perceptions, especially your ongoing sensory impressions. This will be easier if you speak in present tense, even when relating past events or observations.

Continue to write in this torrential outpouring for twenty to thirty minutes.

Go through what you’ve written, and mark with a different color or with a *star* your 4-5 most interesting ideas.

As you see, this takes a little longer than Windtunnel because speaking aloud to a live and meaningful listener is so much more effective, but Freenoting is something you can do any time in the privacy of your own desk, or in the anonymity of your own airline seat.

Freenoting Aftermath

Whichever one or both of these procedures you use, you have a new way of generating fresh insights and answers. How valuable these are to you are strictly a function of these four things:

  1. What you notice and decide to use them on.
  2. How well you use them
  3. How well you can use them
  4. How often you practice them on real issues and challenges.

Discovering the Obvious is our main book of methods for solving problems, for innovating, inventing and for making original discoveries.

Also available from Project Renaissance:  all the newest and easiest methods of problem-solving, in the CoreBook, The Creative Problem-Solving Tool Kit.

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