"The quality of outputs from ideation sessions are heavily influenced by the preparation and planning work done in advance of them...which often is none."
Brainstorming and other similar creative group ideation exercises can be stimulating, energizing and fun. However, as many emphasize breadth (lots of ideas) versus depth (substance, rationale) some of their intended value can go unrealized. Can they be improved? Here are a few ideas.
Make topic immersion and customer intimacy a vital prerequisite for group participation:
Is a 57 year old senior scientist a suitable ideator for a session intended to generate cosmetics product concepts for 13 year old girls? Is a 23 year old male ad executive a good candidate for ideation involving new products for Hispanic adult women? Can someone who has never cleaned house effectively ideate cleaning product solutions? Perhaps, if they each have spent meaningful time immersed in their respective topic and target consumer(s), including exposure to consumer concerns, interests and needs. Otherwise, probably no. SpencerHall's Transforum methodology (http://www.spencerhall.com/innovation_transform.html)
does a nice job of briefing ideation session participants on the habits, needs and interests of the target consumers. This type of briefing should accompany the participant's own direct exposure to the target customer to enable him to become better informed and more in tune with their experiences.
Continually remind participants to be empathic (i.e. to put themselves in their target customer's situation):
Consumer insights drive innovation. Therefore, ideas should reflect insights. Their ideas should represent something that would truly interest and motivate them if they themselves were the target customer. Otherwise, is there any reason to expect the idea to resonate with actual customers?
Ideas can have strong emotional components. Idea generation usually captures what a product will do (function) versus why it's important that it should do it (benefits) and often overlooks underlying insight or emotion. Potentially big ideas are not always able to be captured in a few short words. Be sure to convey benefits, including emotional ones using various communication methods and tools. Use photographs, drawings, sounds, other stimuli to more fully convey ideas versus relying strictly upon a few words captured on a PostIt Note. For instance, Batterii (www.batterii.com) applies an innovative "Pinterest"-like image capture capability to fuel its ideation engine.
Consider executional complexity and feasibility when evaluating and selecting "winning" ideas:
Have you seen new ideas for which there is no obvious technical solution compete head to head with those that are known to be feasible? Winning ideas can often be more aspirational than practical. There is nothing wrong with setting a high bar, but at the end of the day, ideas are only valuable if they can be acted upon. For example, a strong idea that can be executed near-term deserves at least as much consideration as a great idea with unknown or unlikely feasibility.
These are my ideas. What are your thoughts?