I have just returned from leading a Crawford Slip Method (CSM) workshop at an engineering conference. This kind of workshop is a “good deal” for both the leader and the participants. CSM allows a workshop facilitator to spend an hour with a group of 100 people and leave with 2,000 well-formatted, easily-manipulatable ideas. This is because each idea is contained its own little 4 1/4″ by 2 3/4″ slip of paper. Once a person has attended a CSM workshop, they leave having learned a new and powerful individual tool to help increase their brainpower.
At best, human brains are somewhat chaotic and easily distracted pattern-matching machines. But the human brain, combined with these slips, becomes more formidable. CSM helps the easily-distracted to focus. A swirl of ideas can be captured on paper and then physically manipulated by hand to get at the heart of the idea. Once written down and then spread out, reading the fanned slips spurs the brain to re-consider and dig deeper. Contemplation of the ideas in front of you gets you writing more slips. Those slips usually strike nearer the bulls-eye of the thought you are reaching for. In other words, it teases out the pure idea behind your initial thoughts.
Dr. Crawford called this “mental low gear” since it helps you climb steep hills of thought with heavy loads. Mental low gear teases ideas out of your head and onto paper where they might do some good for others.
Dr. Crawford developed this idea back in the 1920s and used it during WWII to help increase defense plant production. I studied under Dr. Crawford in the 1980s and am one of the very few who can successfully lead a CSM workshop in the 21st century. Look up the CSM on the internet and most likely you will find a method that does not follow his original intent.
Perhaps facilitators are using sticky notes and easels. Maybe they try to computerize the method in some way. Whatever version they use, they are avoiding the intense manual labor which makes this method less economically appealing nowadays.
I suggest you try the original first, then make tweaks as suits you.
The slips must come from 20 pound bond paper precisely cut into eight pieces.
Since CSM is not sticky, but loose-leaf, ideas can be recombined from many peoples’ brains. Since it is physical and not virtually on a screen, your space is limited by your reach and a strong brain-hand bond is created in the thought process.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew the first time.
Consider the CSM facilitator who has gone home with thousands of slips from a workshop of hundreds of people. The slips are spread out, covering two or three tables.
A feeling of great despair may creep into your psyche. “What have I gotten myself into!?”
But for a practiced CSM facilitator, this scenario is exciting. The job ahead is much more than a personal mental low gear.
The CSM expert can sort all these slips in a way that reveals and captures the obvious and the not so obvious “meta-ideas”. Collating these thousands of slips is a daunting task, only made possible by the human mind’s ability to match patterns while picking and choosing which pattern is actually out there. And this is all oddly facilitated by the physical activity required.
Ideas are sorted in accordance with a criterion that only becomes apparent as the slips are read during the sorting. The sorter’s brain can skip along meta levels and create new sorting criteria on the fly. The sorter can not only see new connections, but can reject old patterns that do not appear useful.
As slips are read and sorted, the competent sorter will write slips that consolidate many slips. They will also copy some slips and use them in various different places in the final document.
As a disciplined professional, the sorter does not hesitate to allow the slips to suggest a new idea that was not clearly stated on any one slip. The ethical sorter also works hard to avoid injecting their own biases.
As mentioned, this kind of workshop is very labor-intensive for the leader. I have led only a little over a dozen CSM workshops over the years. Now that I am retired and have more time to devote, it was fun to get back into this. And the workshop participants told me they enjoyed it as well.
BTW, the best text on the CSM that is currently in print is: Brainpower Networking Using the Crawford Slip Method by H. William Dettmer