Do you doubt that traditional idea generation approaches are ineffective? Go ahead...take 15 minutes to try to come up with a big idea in an area that you have not considered previously and doesn't require a new technology to be invented.
If you have come up empty, you're not alone. One big reason: your thinking wasn't adequately focused to make ideation productive. As I like to say, when all things are possible...nothing is. If you have participated in group ideation sessions and apply the popular brainstorming methodology, then you already have experienced its many weaknesses: many idea fragments, but very few well thought out ideas.too many ideas that don't relate to the business.many ideas that aren't remotely feasible.many lost idea seeds because they were captured using an insufficiently descriptive shorthand in the interest of speed.scarcely any real group collaboration to build idea fragments into well rounded ideas.a few vocal participants, many passive, non active attendees.adherence to organizational hierarchy (i.e. "That's a great idea, Boss!").attendees don't find out what becomes of their outputs, which causes them to be skeptical of the value of future exercises.
To name but a few. Conventional ideation sessions often don't produce great ideas because the exercise isn't designed to drive a better outcome. It doesn't matter if you do the work at a swanky resort conference room rather than in your team conference room, or if everyone gets to fire Nerf guns at each other. While these niceties can help create a more relaxed environment for ideation, they don't fundamentally change the need for a more productive ideation approach. Currently, most ideation work is designed to emphasize idea breadth versus substance and depth. While this helps to assure the accumulation of a lot of fodder, it doesn't guarantee that we will successfully achieve our objective! Shawn Coyne, an accomplished marketer and one of my colleagues while I was at P&G, together with his management consultant brother Kevin, have considered this topic in detail and reengineered the ideation process. This is described in their work, Brainsteering. In fact, their book poses the provocative timed challenge that opens this week's newsletter, one that serves to expose the considerable limitations of common ideation approaches.
The Coynes believe that better ideation outcomes can result from following two key principles: Ask the Right Questions and Adhere to the Right Process. Beyond sounding right, the Coynes assert that it is proven to work. Among their recommendations:
- The session should focus on asking and answering the Right Questions. If the ideas generated are directed to specifically address these questions, then the session should be more successful than if creativity is left open-ended.
- Related to the first point, ideation should be grounded with certain reality-based must-haves. There isn't much use investing time thinking outside the box if the resulting solutions aren't conceivably feasible. Instead, they think one should think inside the box...in the right places.
- Organize the ideation effort into small work groups consisting of 3-5 persons whose collaborative efforts can lend depth.
Again, sounds right, but what are The Right Questions to ask? And, what is the Right Process to follow? These important topics require and deserve greater space and discussion. I will continue to expand upon it next week.