November 9


The 2 most successful thinking tools by Vera F. Birkenbihl: ABC-lists and Analograffiti

By Laura Bacher

November 9, 2020

She is the “master of knowledge” and is – rightly – called by many a “walking encyclopedia.” She laid the foundation for personality development in the German-speaking world. By 2000 she had sold almost 2 million books. We are talking about Vera F. Birkenbihl (* 26 April 1946 in Munich; † 3 December 2011 in Osterholz-Scharmbeck).

At the age of 13, she realized that she could learn well at home but not at school. Even as a teenager, she gave language lessons (German as a foreign language). Vera F. Birkenbihl studied psychology and philosophy in the USA. In 1969 she started to publish and spread the “brain-friendly” concept. Brain-friendly learning and training have been her trademark ever since. Vera F. Birkenbihl also designed concrete models for better communication, stress management, and personality development in addition to publications and seminars on learning and teaching. In the 1990s, she was considered the best-known trainer for managers in the German-speaking world. Her management training is still legendary today.

This article presents thinking tools – methods, techniques, tips, and tricks developed by Vera F. Birkenbihl to optimize thinking (including learning/teaching).

1. the ABC-lists

  • Material: paper and pen or digital writing
  • Purpose: Brainstorming technique
  • Interesting for: executives, profession, everyday life

Do you have a specific question? Do you want to solve a particular problem? Use the brain-friendly brainstorming technique with ABC lists that tap into your inner archive. You can apply this thinking tool to any topic.

This is how you use ABC-lists:

Create a list with the alphabet. Now you see the problem or question in front of you and read the ABC. Important: There is no order. Keep panning over the letters with your eyes. Now, something associative happens: associations from your subconscious come to your mind. Write them to the first letter of each one. In this way, you will gradually fill the ABC list with creative associations or ideas.

Suppose you would like to read a text at your friend’s birthday party with excerpts from his or her life and would now like to collect ideas about it.

A Ambitious                    

C Car lover

H Holiday camp by the lake

I Inline skating

J jokes – loves to tell them

K kind-hearted


M mountain lover

N No Limits – Youth years



R Restless likes to be on the move

S Summer Party 2010

T Turquoise jumper



X X-Mas/Christmas holiday in the mountains



It is not necessary to find something for every letter. Multiple answers are possible for individual letters. And also, creative things – e.g., associations with messages like the X are somewhat tricky. Here you are allowed to be creative and could, for example, the name “any model” (also phrases that may not begin with this letter). It is also possible to use foreign words and drawings. Everything is allowed.

2. Analograffiti

  • Material: paper, pens
  • Purpose: brainstorming technique
  • Interesting for: executives, profession, everyday life

“Analograffiti” stands for analogue thinking (“analogue”) and pictorial representation (“graffiti”). It is a word picture to link knowledge (to find associations) and to develop new ideas. Vera F. Birkenbihl mainly used two variants: CaWa and CaGa.

CaWa stands for “creative analograffiti word association.” You write a word across the middle of a sheet. Now you should add your ideas and thoughts to the letters of the term. You can also think of words in other languages or short sentences. The procedure is the same as for the ABC list: The eyes move “back and forth,” and you note down associations as they occur to you, instead of starting with the first letter and proceeding in sequence.

CaGa stands for “creative analografitti graphic associative.” As with CaWa, creative associations are made to a given (or freely chosen) term/topic – but this time in graphic form, i.e., drawing.

You can use Analograffiti like ABC lists: You use them for brainstorming, repetition, follow-up, and structuring of already learned contents and thus act as a supporting preparation for tests as well as a long-lasting knowledge memory and the preparation and design of presentations.

Understanding or apprehending means that the brain’s left hemisphere hears or reads the word while the right hemisphere looks in the archive (= memory) to see if we already have an image or idea about the term.

Vera F. Birkenbihl

You can exercise creativity

Make ABC lists for 5 to 10 minutes every day for 14 days – always on the same topic. The subconscious is tapped little by little; the flap to creativity is opened wider and wider. After a few days, you will find extraordinary and ever new associations and ideas that you hadn’t thought of on the first day. Consolidate (merge) the lists at the end into a single list.

Tip: Set a deadline, a final destination. This is important both for the 14-day challenge (“I want an answer in 14 days”) and for the one-off preparation of ABC lists (“90 seconds per ABC list”). This way, your subconscious knows that it needs to find a solution instead of taking forever. We recommend setting a timer (alarm clock) to 90 seconds and using the ABC list technique during this time. Are you still not satisfied with the result? Then repeat the same ABC list after a break of at least 10 minutes for another 90 seconds. You can do the repetitions as often as you like and can be done either on the same day or spread over several days.

ABC lists and analograffiti as tools for self-checking

Also, the technique of the ABC lists, CaGas, and CaWas is great for checking collected knowledge or summarising a topic. ABC lists, CaGas, and CaWas, can be used for learning and preparing for exams. This works by writing down everything you can think of on a topic: English words on the subject of “going shopping,” facts about World War II, 19th-century music, rivers in Germany, everything about bees …

Birkenbihl thinking tools for (company) presentations

Besides, ABC lists, CaGas as well, as CaWas are ideal for the preparation of presentations. On the one hand, to collect relevant content in practice and, on the other hand, as an alternative to conventional presentation cards. Besides the latter is particularly recommended for presentations that need to be incredibly authentic, and you want to speak freely. For example, record the key points of your articulation on the ABC list. You can then “work through” these flexibly depending on the audience, time, desire, and mood. Or note down the essentials statements on each PowerPoint slide using a CaWas to speak freely instead of reading off ready-made sentences.

Laura Bacher

About the author

Laura has been a big fan of foreign languages since her childhood. She grew up bilingual - English and German - and through international vacations, she got a taste of many other languages.

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