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Take Your Ideation Sessions to the Next Level

Take Your Ideation Sessions to the Next Level

Ever find yourself at the helm of a meeting, striving to ignite the creative spark that could drive your company's next big innovation? Welcome to the world of ideation, the cradle of transformative ideas and an essential part of any idea management process.

In this article, we delve into the essentials of running successful ideation sessions at work and explore powerful techniques to unleash your team's creative potential.

What is Ideation? – Definition & Meaning

Progress and success hinge not only on recognizing challenges but also envisioning and executing effective solutions. In this continuous cycle of innovation, a central concept emerges: ideation. 

Ideation refers to forming and connecting ideas within the mind. It's a cognitive and imaginative process that sets the stage for innovative actions. 

But ideation is not a solo activity. In the world of enterprise, ideation often takes the form of collaborative brainstorming or ideation sessions. These are structured meetings where teams explore solutions to a particular problem. As such, they serve as incubators for the ideas that drive growth and disruption. 

However, effective ideation takes more than just putting a group of people in a room. It requires a deep understanding of the problem, the right techniques to inspire creative thinking, and the appropriate tools to capture, evaluate, and prioritize the ideas generated.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at these aspects while providing a roadmap to running successful ideation sessions. 

💡 Ideation is closely related to idea generation and brainstorming. But it’s a broader concept. Ideation is activated during idea generation, and brainstorming is one way to approach ideation, but not the only one.

Also read: Goodbye Suggestion Boxes, Hello Digitalization & AI

How to Run Actionable Ideation Sessions at Work

As we delve into the world of ideation, it's important to understand how to turn brainstorming sessions into actionable outcomes. 

The secret? It's all about finding the right people, putting them in the right environment, encouraging effective communication, and having a structured process to manage the results. 

infographic by Ideanote on 8 steps of how to run successful ideation sessons

Invite the right people

The magic of ideation often sparks from the intersection of varied perspectives and a diverse pool of knowledge. Thus, assembling the right team is paramount.

Inviting people with sufficient background knowledge about the problem at hand is an essential first step. Their expertise can provide the context necessary to unravel the complexities of the issue.

However, solely asking specialists could limit the breadth of ideas generated. Diverse perspectives breed innovation, and this is where people with varied expertise come into play. They can offer fresh insights or less conventional approaches that may not be apparent from a more narrow viewpoint. 

But how do you identify the ideal participants for an ideation session? Spot the "ideators" in your company — the people that thrive most in brainstorming environments. They're the ones that think outside the box, who are inquisitive, and open to change. 

By carefully curating your ideation team, balancing specialized knowledge with diverse perspectives, and identifying natural ideators, you can set the stage for a productive ideation session.

Also read: Keys for Enabling Blue Sky Thinking in Your Business

Designate a facilitator

While the collaborative nature of ideation sessions is key, a well-defined structure is crucial for guiding the chaos of creativity. At the heart of this structure is a facilitator, whose role is essential in managing the session and driving it towards productive outcomes.

A skilled facilitator ensures the ideation session runs smoothly by: 

  • Managing the process
  • Asking thought-provoking questions 
  • Maintaining a positive and engaging atmosphere. 

As such, they play a pivotal role in sparking creativity, encouraging participation, and keeping everyone focused. In essence, the facilitator is conducting the orchestra, creating harmony from diverse voices, and guiding the team to innovative solutions. 

It's also up to the facilitator to prepare for the session in advance, which may involve: 

  • Creating an agenda
  • Formulating problem statements
  • Developing a list of questions

By establishing a clear roadmap for the session, the facilitator can guide the team effectively towards fruitful ideation.

Get people engaged

Engagement is the fuel that powers the engine of innovation.

For successful ideation to happen, you need genuine engagement from everyone involved. As such, it's important to explain the 'why' behind an ideation session. In doing so, you'll help team members understand the value of their input and the significance of the problems you're solving. 

One of the best ways to cultivate good ideas is to make ideation an integral part of company culture. Emphasize the benefits of contributing ideas, not just for the business, but for the individual. A transparent idea management process that shows the trajectory of an idea, from inception to fruition, can be a powerful motivator.

However, a shift in company culture won’t happen overnight. So until then, here are some ideation strategies you can employ to help engage and inspire people during your ideation sessions:

  • Changing scenery: New surroundings help disrupt routine thinking and stimulate new perspectives and ideas.
  • Scheduling Breaks: Intermittent pauses are not only conducive to creativity, but they also keep energy levels high and give time for participants to process information.
  • Guiding Dialogue: A skilled mediator can help balance the flow of conversation, ensuring everyone is heard and every idea is considered.
  • Incentivizing: Rewards can go a long way in fostering active participation and engagement among teams.
  • Leadership Participation: By encouraging visible endorsement and involvement from leaders, you'll emphasize how important the ideation process is to the company.

Also read: How Idea Crowdsourcing Really Works

Start by formulating the problem

A successful ideation session begins with clarifying its purpose, which often comes from a problem statement. It may sound obvious but identifying the problem you need to solve is the first step in the ideation process.

Accurately pinpointing the problem means continuously asking "why" until you identify its root cause. This approach — known as "The Five Whys" — can ensure that you're not just treating the symptoms of a deeper issue.

A clear and precise problem statement serves as a guide for ideation sessions. It sets the context and provides a frame for which creative thinking can take place. 

The best problem statements are those that aren't so broad that they're overwhelming, nor too narrow that they stifle creativity. Instead, a problem statement should invite exploration to stimulate thought and discussion.

Remember, the quality of a solution often correlates with the understanding of the problem.

Also read: Idea Meritocracy: The Way to Collective Decision-Making

Ask the right questions

Of all the ideation tools and strategies at your disposal, simply knowing how to ask the right questions can greatly impact the process. Questions help transform large, complex problems into smaller and more manageable challenges. 

For example, rather than making statements such as "We need to…" try asking HMW questions like "How might we…?" This simple shift in perspective can elicit a broad spectrum of solutions while fostering a positive and collaborative mindset among teams.

Furthermore, focusing on the future (rather than dwelling on the past) can be an effective way to stimulate more ideas. At Ideanote, we've noticed that our clients generate a higher volume of innovative solutions when their questions are future-oriented.

You might also consider using ideation techniques to frame your questions, provide structure, and maximize idea generation — we’ll talk more about these in a moment. 

What are some examples of how-might-we questions?

Innovation, at it's core, is about solving problems. So make sure you get the problems right.

The better you define the problem and the better you write the questions, the better the ideas that they prompt.

Problem: Customers are struggling during first time user.
HMW: How might we improve the onboarding experience to be simple and failure proof?

Here are 10 examples of How might we questions for your inspiration:

  • Map the journey: How might we remove the wait time between the airport arrival and departure?
  • Build on top: How might we make our products into a more symbiotic experience?
  • Exploit a gap: How might we turn missing search results into a benefit?
  • Question the status quo: How might we remove the need for an office?
  • Go after the deadline: How might we ensure people hand in their papers on time?
  • Turn habit into health: How might we help employees stay productive and healthy when working from home?
  • Make invisible things visible: How might we make customers feel that their information is safe and secure when creating an account?
  • Discover moments of pride: How might we encourage our most loyal customers to talk about their most rewarding experiences?
  • Help the young: How might we make it easier for students to find and apply to a higher education course?
  • Change adoption: How might we get companies to invest in the future, rather than the present?

  • If it's not enough, take a look at our 100 how-might-we questions.

    Make sure everyone is heard 

    Fostering an environment where everyone feels heard is crucial to the success of any ideation session. This means creating a safe space where individuals feel comfortable expressing their ideas — even the most unconventional ones — without fear of ridicule.

    Emphasizing that there are no 'bad' ideas at this stage can help stimulate creative innovation. An atmosphere of trust and acceptance encourages the flow of disruptive ideas — some of which could be groundbreaking. It's a place where the seemingly 'crazy' can spark the brilliant.

    To support this open dialogue, you might consider establishing a list of forbidden phrases that might stifle creativity, such as: 

    • "We tried that last year." 
    • "That’s really the same as our current product." 
    • "It could take a long time to figure that one out."  
    • "It’s a good idea, but…" 

    Banning such phrases from an ideation session will help ensure that every idea gets the consideration it deserves.

    Encourage immediate feedback 

    Effective feedback serves as the catalyst that sparks the cycle of idea generation, evaluation, and refinement. It’s the first step towards assessing the potential of an idea, allowing people to build upon their initial thoughts, refine them, and ultimately, develop them into a more robust, effective solution. 

    Immediate feedback also ensures that ideas do not simply surface and get discarded. Instead, each idea becomes a stepping stone, potentially leading to potential solutions that may not be immediately clear.

    Feedback in this context isn't about passing judgment or seeking perfection, it's about exploring possibilities and evolving ideas. The most powerful ideas often start as raw and imperfect thoughts that — through a process of sharing, discussion, and feedback — are eventually sculpted into tangible solutions.

    Every idea, irrespective of its initial viability, holds value. A seemingly improbable idea could spark a thought, which starts a conversation, eventually leading to a game-changing solution. 

    Remember, the goal of immediate feedback isn't to instantly find the perfect idea but to create a dynamic, collaborative process that fosters continuous innovation. 

    Use an idea management tool to structure the process

    Idea management software like Ideanote, can help capture, organize, and manage the ideas generated during ideation sessions, which is an important part of structuring and streamlining your ideation process. They also help ensure that no idea, no matter how raw or unconventional, is lost or forgotten. 

    But idea management tools do more than just collect. They serve as a structured platform for sorting, evaluating, and shortlisting them based on criteria. In doing so, they provide a systematic approach that helps identify the most promising ideas, so you can focus on those with the greatest potential for success.

    Furthermore, these tools provide a transparent way to track the progression of an idea from conception to implementation. They offer valuable insights into the idea development process, enabling teams to understand how a thought becomes a reality.

    Also read: Creating a Continuous Idea Pipeline for Innovation

    3 Ideation Techniques & Exercises

    In this section, we'll explore tried-and-true ideation exercises and techniques that can spark creativity and foster innovation within your team. Each of these unique approaches offers a different pathway to unlock your team's creative potential and drive productive ideation. 

    SCAMPER

    SCAMPER is an acronym that provides prompts to encourage people to think differently about a problem by guiding the conversation. Here's how:

    • Substitute: Consider replacing parts of the product, process, or problem with something else. What changes? How does it influence the result?
    • Combine: Explore the possibilities of merging elements. Could the combination of two ideas lead to a solution?
    • Adapt: Can existing solutions be adjusted to solve the problem?
    • Modify: Change aspects of the problem or solution. This could mean altering size, shape, processes, or other characteristics.
    • Put to another use: Could the product or process be used differently?
    • Eliminate: How does the product/process function without certain components? Could less be more?
    • Rearrange/Reverse: What if certain steps were rearranged? 

    Whether it's substituting a part of the process, combining two distinct elements, or imagining the reverse of your current strategy, SCAMPER presents a powerful way to dismantle and reimagine your challenges, fostering the birth of fresh, transformative solutions. 

    Also read: Idea Validation: How To Test Your Business and Product Ideas

    Mind mapping 

    There's a good chance you've used a mind map at least once. But despite being a traditional form of brainstorming, mind mapping is still a powerful ideation technique. By organizing information visually, a mind map helps you structure your thoughts and connect ideas. 

    The process starts with a central concept, written down in the middle of a piece of paper. Then, ideas are added around that concept in branches, like a tree. This technique encourages free-associative thinking, helping teams visualize and explore the relationships between concepts. 

    Whether you're defining a problem, brainstorming solutions, or seeking to understand a complex issue, mind mapping provides a clear and intuitive way to capture and connect your ideas, enabling a more holistic and creative approach to problem-solving.

    Also read: The 10 Best Crowdsourcing Tools on The Market

    Idea challenging

    Idea Challenging is an ideation technique that encourages teams to question existing assumptions and challenge the status quo. It revolves around taking a well-established idea or a conventional way of doing things and then deliberately challenging it. By questioning its necessity, relevance, effectiveness, or efficiency, you open the door to innovative alternatives. 

    This process promotes a culture of critical thinking and continuous improvement, driving teams to think outside the box. By daring to challenge accepted ideas, you empower your team to break free from traditional constraints and unlock new pathways to innovation.

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    AUTHOR
    Jakob Storjohann

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