July 20, 2017

How to Run an Ideation Session

How to Run an Ideation Session

15 Minutes

1 Problem

5 People

50 Ideas

Our clients are generally amazed (understatement) by the number of relevant ideas that they are able to generate in such a short amount of time during our design thinking workshops. The key input for ideation is a genuine problem worth solving (hint: talk to your customers to find out what problems exist). Then it’s time to launch your ideation session.

The ideation process is your opportunity to generate solutions by combining your understanding of the problem and the customer. Get your team together (ideally between four to eight people) and start brainstorming by applying the following five tips to increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

1. Set the scene

Prior to jumping into ideation, establish ground rules with your team. Here are a few non-negotiables.

  1. Timebox - Generally the session should go for between 15-25 minutes. Set a timer!
  2. Stand up - Creativity flows when there is energy within the group, so make sure you are out of your seats during the session.
  3. One idea per post-it note - Have plenty of post-it notes so that each team member can capture ideas during the session.
  4. Be visual - It’s often easier and better to show instead of tell. Draw your ideas where it makes sense to do so. Stick figures and sketches can sometimes say more than many words can.

2. Keep your eye on the prize

There should only be one conversation happening at a time. It is easy to get sidetracked during an ideation session and for multiple conversations to occur at the same time. Each person in the session should wait their turn to share and make sure the whole group is listening when they do. Check out this video of a successful ideation session by the IDEO Toy Lab. The team at IDEO generates ideas for bath toys in the video and the team does a fantastic job at maintaining focus during the session while coming up with some pretty epic ideas.

3. The more the better

How on earth are we going to come up with ideas in such a short period of time?

Team members new to ideation will doubt that it is possible to come up with a few let alone a lot of ideas during the session. Without a target you won’t know what to aim at. Setting an ambitious target will galvanise the team. For example, if your session is timeboxed for 15 minutes make sure you have a target of at least 30 ideas. The best way to generate a good idea is to come up with lots of ideas.

4. Encourage crazy ideas

Remove all the limitations and boundaries that exist at your organisation. Pretend you have a blank canvas - worry about whether the idea will work later down the track. Even if an idea doesn’t seem realistic, it may spark a great idea for someone else.

If for example an idea is progressed and a barrier to implementation is a lack of available budget, then use it as an opportunity to ideate again to think of ideas of how to implement the idea with a smaller budget.

“The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea” Peter Diamandis (Founder of the X-Prize and co-founder of Singularity University)

5. Remove judgement

“That’s not possible!”

“That will never work!”

“We tried this before, it didn’t work!”

It is easy to fall into the trap of shutting down ideas when you first hear them. When you hear an idea from a team member, think “and...” rather than “but...” in order to maintain the momentum of the ideation session and to help generate as many ideas as possible.

Bad ideas do exist but they are encouraged as sometimes the bad ideas are the ones that lead to the breakthrough ideas.

If someone came up to you right now and asked you to come up with an idea to solve a problem they had - you would probably struggle to come up with ideas let alone any good ones. This is why ideation is so powerful, as it establishes a way to create focus and spark these ideas.

So what happens with all these ideas?

Give each team member the opportunity to vote for their top ideas directly after the session is finished while the ideas are still fresh in their minds. Consider the following when voting:

  • Inspirational - is the idea easy to understand and exciting?
  • Relevant - Does the idea actually address the problem?

Selecting ideas to move forward is just the beginning. It is now time to apply methods such as the lean startup and rapid prototyping to execute on your ideas!

Innovate or die.

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Shay Namdarian

Shay is the General Manager of Customer Strategy at Collective Campus. He has over 8 years of experience working across a wide range of projects focusing on customer experience, design thinking, innovation and digital transformation. He has gained his experience across several consulting firms including Ernst & Young, Capgemini and Accenture.

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