Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Making ideation productive

A significant problem that may firms face is generating ideas that matter. Many firms I work with will tell me they have plenty of ideas - often the problem is that none of them are very good ideas. So the challenges of innovation begin with generating ideas that solve specific problems or identify new opportunities. There are several ways to do this:

First, move from reactive innovation to proactive innovation. Many firms have open brainstorming or an open suggestion box. The outcomes of both of these approaches is great in the short term and fairly devastating in the long term. Open suggestion boxes will receive hundreds of ideas about a wide range of concepts that for the most part have little to do with the opportunities and challenges the firm faces. Rather than wait on ideas that individuals want to submit, the firm should become "proactive" and reach out to the employees for ideas on specific topics. Moving from a reactive stance where you receive any idea from any person, to a proactive stance, where the innovation team targets a specific problem or opportunity, means you may receive fewer ideas, but the ideas you'll get will be more specific and actionable.

Second, you should frame your opportunities or challenges. State specifically what Problem, Opportunity, Threat or Trend you want to address. This Problem, Opportunity, Trend or Threat framework is one we've developed and believe works well, but you may develop another framework. Again, this approach may reduce some of the volume of ideas, but will result in ideas that can be implemented and fit within the context of the needs.

Third, prepare your team. Many times brainstorming or ideation is seen as a short vacation from work - there's little preparation and most people know little will be done with the ideas once they are generated. Instead, send your participants pre-reading materials and homework. Help them arrive informed and aware of the key issues and challenges. Demonstrate how the best ideas will be assigned for further evaluation to demonstrate the ideas won't simply die in a file folder.

To use a food analogy, you wouldn't expect to be able to create a gourmet meal by selecting items at random from your grocery store aisle. Instead, you'd select a recipe, obtain the specific necessary ingredients and prepare the food as instructed. Every step in place and has it's purpose. Brainstorming and ideation follow the same logic.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 10:34 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some good stuff here, but I'm not sure that the pre-reading / homework idea is a good one if you're really wanting to stimulate creativity. Isn't it pretty much inevitable that anything used for preparation will tend to reinforce a certain point of view and encourage convergance? Is there a way of getting the participants prepared and "in the same place" without seeding similar ideas in them? I'd be interest to know if there are any suggestions.

6:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Jeff; it is important to be proactive with brainstorming and not wait for the ideas to flow at random. I like the cooking analogy. To find the best recipes out there, you need to ask a question. Like: "What are ideas for Italian recipes for summer meals? This automatically gives people a frame of reference, and a funnel for their questions.

At BrainReactions we believe question creation is the driver of ideation. Take your problem or opportunity and divide it into attributes.

The issue at hand may be "What are ideas around marketing this new service?" Marketing has many attributes including message, method, tools, technology, the profile of your customer. You can then take that specific question and break it down into 5 or 10 questions, getting more specific down the line.

Sometimes it is just the facilitator that needs to plan ahead of time and do homework. You can't expect workers to just come up with successful ideas without any guidance.

The other crucial aspect of brainstorming is not to judge the ideas you are generating. Analysis comes later.

At BrainReactions we talk about the curse of knowledge--when you are so ingrained in a topic that you can't think outside of the box. If you are having a problem in HR, you might want to bring in people from other departments or from outside the company to generate ideas. An elementary understanding of the topic will not hinder creativity, in my opinion.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts on ideation. One strategy I use when people come unprepared to a brainstorming session is to simply break up and have people review the material. If people do not take the time to prepare in advance you are still better off stopping to review the material then to walk in circles.

2:11 PM  
Blogger James Todhunter said...

Hi Jeffrey,

Great points! I have discussed your post on my blog,

Please, check it out and let me know what you think.

6:00 AM  
Anonymous stop pre ejaculation said...

Thanks a lot for this time sharing of innovation about MAKING IDEATION PRODUCTIVE. This is reall y the best website about innovation i have ever read.

8:26 PM  

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