You can see the negative turbulence on the horizon. You know you need to do something, but right now, you and your team can’t seem to generate anything fresh or useful. You are in a brainstorming rut, and the pressure is mounting.
Faced with this pressure, I’ve seen leaders take strange steps, including asking a psychic. However, there’s no need to consult a mystic, you can take these seven simple steps, and you will supercharge your idea generation.
#1 Establish a Team
Too often, we try to take it all alone. Alone you are more likely to start digging a trench than push the boundaries. (Please see my recent article on this issue) You might need outside help, or you might need to draw more widely within your organization. Find a way to share the load.
Like every team, this is not a dictatorship, nor is it a democracy. A team is a collaborative effort where you are working as one unit towards a common goal. Guide everyone in the philosophy that goal is the success of the team. If the team is successful, they will be too.
#2 Build Trust and Find Meaning
Unless everyone feels safe and understands the higher purpose, they can’t begin to generate the game-changing ideas you need. At the very first meeting of one team, I was on. We decided we were going to be like a happy family. That meant being present, not judging each other, and critically, any problems that would arise we committed to solving with them amongst ourselves openly and honestly. To this day, that team stands out to me as a dream team.
#3 Clearly define the challenge and keep coming back to it
I’ve observed teams wander lost without the rudder of a definite problem. Pay attention that it’s not too broad nor too narrow. This can be challenging as it requires perspective, clarity, vulnerability, and sometimes courage. A weak problem definition can derail your innovation initiative. There is an art to this, and it may take you and the team time to state it clearly. The effort spent here will ensure that you are not digging a trench.
#4 Prime the pump by looking for inspiration outside of your business sector
This is not a competitive analysis. This is gazing far and wide, looking at adjacent/analogous industries or businesses. I’ve found that this is where the eureka moments live. For instance, while working on a wedding planning site, I looked for inspiration from the tourism industry. Both events, planning a wedding or planning a trip, involve the same four stages: dreaming, planning, doing, sharing.
#5 Structure your idea generation sessions.
I’ve witnessed too many idea generation sessions where it was all about just putting sticky notes on the whiteboard. The ideas coming out of these sessions are generally weak and derivative.
I like to use a consecutive pairing exercise where each person starts alone, then pairs with one other, then that pair pairs with two others. I another innovator I know likes to use a war-games like exercise, and another uses Serious Play. It depends on the size/type of problem, your organization and your team. However, in all cases, it helps to give the team some structure to work within. There is nothing like a few constraints, no matter how fictional, to drive creativity.
#6 Do not look for ROI, feasibility or even applicability until the idea has had a chance to be thoroughly examined.
New ideas are tender shoots and are quickly squashed. Find ways to make space for the new ideas to get enough light and air before deciding whether or not to pursue them. It can be tough, we are human, and we react from an emotional basis. Sometimes all it takes is to take a breath. Others it might mean parking discussion until after a break.
#7 Make sure everyone on the team has a voice
How are you collecting input for ideas? Is it all brainstorming and everyone contributing vocally? Did you know that women, minorities, and introverts are less likely to participate in this kind of situation? Or perhaps the senior leader or sponsor monopolizing the idea flow and discussion.
Consider alternate methods of participation and input. A few easy ideas include: having people write things down, giving people a chance to find inspiration before the meeting, or breaking larger groups into smaller units. I’ve seen that even starting the session with the reminder that we’re all equal contributors can go a long way.
Hopefully, you find these tips useful either as a fresh perspective or only provide a quick reminder for things you already know.