The tried and tested tool of strategic planning, Brainstorming, dates back to the late 1930s. Yet, in today’s modern world, this once hallmark of thought generation has become outdated and ineffective. This primarily stems from the fact that Brainstorming is centered on solving and rehashing previously analyzed subjects. Whereas Ideation, by its very nature, aims to uncover solutions for problems that, in many cases, have yet to be delineated. By empowering the individual, introducing external stimuli, and encouraging lateral thinking, Ideation provides a way to step back, reframe, and understand the topic at hand from an entirely new perspective. A critically important process for any business looking to stay on top of, or entirely revolutionize the market.
The “I” in Ideation
Before diving into some of the key steps of running a successful Ideation session, it’s important to understand what make’s Ideation so effective, and so different from Brainstorming. It starts with the individual, the “I’ in Ideation if you like. If each participant has time to generate their own thoughts, free from the opinions of others, they will enter into group discussion more assured and more responsible for their own ideas.
This is when the value of assembly and group discussion truly comes to the fore. As explained by Robert S. Siegel, “My brain holds certain information and your brain holds some of the same but also quite a bit of different info. If we network our brains via communication techniques; talking, writing, drawing; we enable much broader and much more complete thought.” Networks, by their very definition, are systems or groups of interconnected people or things, not just one single unified entity. This is why big group brainstorming sessions, that lump large numbers of people together in one room, often fail to deliver unique ideas – because from the get-go everyone is stuck in a “group think” dynamic.
According to Bryan Mattimore, founder of The Growth Engine, the other key differentiator between traditional Brainstorming and Ideation is that the latter focusses on introducing “new stimuli to excite people’s brains in a new way.” Rather than just jumping in a room and throwing ideas at a whiteboard for an afternoon, Ideation uses external stimuli to trigger the brain and push people to examine problems in entirely new ways. For example, using slang dictionaries to name a new flavor of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. It’s through these external stimuli that Ideation sessions transcend traditional Brainstorming and help teams overcome problems they may have been dwelling on for months on end.
With the key differentiators between Ideation and Brainstorming understood, what are some of the key factors in running an Ideation workshop to inspire your team, change their thinking, and unearth previously unthought of solutions?
First, you’ll need to make sure you carefully choose a suitable venue. Somewhere off-site where the team can escape the trappings of your usual office is crucial. The main aim of Ideation is to generate a break in the way people think and the venue is often the first trigger towards achieving this, so think outside the box. Also make sure you have lots of food and drink to keep the team happy and fuelled – pro-tip: dark chocolate is a great way to kickstart a session as it can help boost cognition.
On the day, once the aforementioned individual Ideation has taken place, the facilitators should split the team into smaller groups. These smaller groups can then discuss each participant’s ideas and whether they’re worth pursuing further. The value of smaller groups is that they will facilitate discussion and provide quieter people a more comfortable environment in which to voice their opinions. This contrasts with big group brainstorming sessions where often certain people’s voices will be drowned out. Feel free to rotate the groups as the session moves along to keep things fresh. It’s also important that these groups, and the overall group, are “cross-functional” so as to introduce different perspectives.
In terms of the actual Ideation, there are countless techniques that can be implemented. Depending on the time period allotted, it’s usually helpful to break the session into 3-5 Sprints (activities with a time limit)with short breathers in-between. These Sprints will usually build upon one another or upon the same core idea. The length and number of Sprints will depend on the types of ideas you’re looking to generate. For example, creating campaign slogans will lend itself to more quick-fire activities that produce a lot of output. Whereas, trying to develop an entirely new product, will lend itself to a longer more in-depth session.
To close, your team needs to agree upon the next steps and deliverables. That means, deciding on how each idea will come to fruition, what plans will be put in place to execute said ideas, and who will be responsible for each step of each upcoming task. Make sure these steps are outlined as clearly as possible so that all the ideas generated don’t just remain ideas.
In a competitive city such as Hong Kong, where staying ahead of the rapidly evolving technological landscape is critical to business success, innovative thinking is fast becoming a priceless skill. This is further compounded by the fact that studies have shown Hong Kong lags behind its major city counterparts in terms of creativity. Given these challenging market conditions, businesses and start-ups must embrace Ideation as a method of strategic thinking or risk being buried under an insurmountable pile of post-it notes.
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