Once a problem or opportunity brief is identified and senior management takes initiative to lead an ideation session, the preparation phase can begin. Here are some critical preparatory steps for a successful ideation session.
Why Smart Preparation Is The Most Vital Phase
No ideation session will be successful without comprehensive, relevant and participatory planning. But there are always challenges; Many companies ask managers to do the work of several employees, giving them little time to think creatively. Often managers come from afar without any prior preparation so they show up for an ideation session expecting to create a big “breakthrough innovation." As a result, they only generate flat, unexciting, unrealistic ideas or they're too general or ambitious. These situations result in random and unproductive brainstorming sessions. It's important for everyone to start creating new perspectives and ideas well before showing up for th ideation session so they can “hit the ground running." Here are some specific initiatives that will help:
- Give them a homework assignment, ideally that will encourage them to put themselves in the shoes of their target customer and focus on their perceptions and emotional feelings, e.g. if possible, interview some customers or create a diary that describes their experiences with a product or service. Filling out a relevant questionnaire on customer perceptions, major challenges and opportunities, external threats, etc. will force them to commit their time and creative thinking on paper. One exercise I often use is a questionnaire that will determine their personal brand archetype, with descriptions that reflect personality traits, not functional elements. This helps them view their company or product brand as “personality”, which is key for building relationships.
- Conduct research. This could be a survey, or some qualitative studies (informal focus groups?), internet desk research on emerging trends and competition, taking a shopping trip and observing customer behavior, studying competitive web sites, talking to outside experts in an industry, reviewing appropriate blogs on relevant subjects and most important, identifying those key drivers or experiences that invoke the emotion and spirit of the customer.
- Do mind stretching exercises during the few days before the ideation session will help the participants “warm up” their creative energies. Scientists at the University of Washington believe that listening to light classical music is a good way to release these creative juices. One unique approach is “forced perspective,” which encourages the participant to look at a thing in a different way. Ask them to start thinking of new ideas, even carrying around a notebook to jot them down. Then let these ideas gestate and develop in their subconscious, which holds most of the emotional feelings. Challenge them to generate at least 15 new ideas in the 72 hours prior to the session. Ideas originate during a variety of unfocused, random situations. For example:
- Showering or shaving
- Commuting to work
- During a boring meeting
- While reading
- While exercising
- In church
- In the middle of the night
- Provide Focus. A problem/opportunity brief should be developed and circulated beforehand. Ask everyone to critique it, make suggestions and use it is as a building block for fresh perspectives. The objectives should be clear, realistic and simple. These objectives will serve to bring the ideation discussion back to the main theme if/when wandering too far. Ideally, post these objectives in front of the room where everyone can see them and include them in the problem/opportunity brief. An outside facilitator should probe the viability of these objectives with senior management to ensure that their expectations are realistic and the ideation session is designed properly. Finally, have a clear agenda, with enough detail to enhance the individual preparation by the participants, but with enough flexibility to pursue and build on unanticipated ideas and directions.
For more information on how to plan for a successful ideation session, download our eBook below.
Part 1: The Ideation Process: What it is, Why Important and Management Commitment
Part 2: 4 Examples of Key Tasks to Prepare for a Successful Ideation Session
Part 3: Who Should Participate in an Ideation Session – Importance of Diversity
Part 4: What You Should Include to Make an Ideation Session a Success
Part 5: Completing the Ideation Process – The Challenge of Execution
image credit: brandoncripps