Coach your team to be idea machines!

It’s common knowledge that if you put 10 staff members through the same experience, you’ll get 10 different interpretations.

That’s why the concepts of group brainstorming and problem solving are so important to supporting innovation.

Because the diversity of your people can be harnessed to produce wildly unique ideas. Disruptive ideas. Profitable ideas!

Think about your people as the source of creative idea-power that drives your idea machine.

So how do you create your own idea machine?

To use an analogy, compare it to the production of steel.

You’ve got 4 elements in the production of steel; the principles of steel manufacturing, the inputs, the processes and the output:

  • The principle(s): Steel is iron strengthened through the removal of weakening impurities
  • The input: Iron ore (Australia’s leading export)
  • The process(es): 98% iron ore is mixed with coke and other impurity-collecting materials (such as limestone) in a blast furnace. At extreme temperatures iron’s impurities are eliminated with various processes
  • The output: Steel; relied upon for construction, vehicles, engines, machines and much of modern day life

Now you can think of the manufacture of breakthrough ideas using the same model:

  • The principle(s): guidelines for idea generation (below)
  • The input: Your employees’ creative minds
  • The process(es): Activities to stimulate idea generation (below)
  • The output: Breakthrough, innovation-driving ideas

You already have your iron ore (your team’s natural creativity), the input.

Let’s now look at the principles of idea generation and some useful idea generation processes to turn your team’s creativity into innovative ideas.

Principles of Idea Generation

Have you ever struggled to fire up your team’s creativity? You might have sat down with everyone to solve an urgent problem, yet got nothing back in the form of useful (let alone breakthrough) ideas.

Getting your people to open up to their full creative power has a lot to do with how you frame an idea generation session, and the expectations you set from the start.

Introducing my 6 principles for successful idea generation sessions:

  1. Set a specific (albeit challenging) session target statement; the achievement of a well-defined goal or a solution to a precise problem
  2. No idea is a bad idea
  3. Criticism is NOT allowed
  4. More ideas the better (at least 100, but more like well over 200)
  5. Crazy and wild ideas are encouraged
  6. Seek improvement on existing ideas (adapting, improving and iterating on ideas that have been suggested is certainly allowed)

Share these principles with your team at the start of the session. Your people need to be assured that the session is a safe environment, free of criticism, where the goal is quantity of ideas, rather than judgement of their validity.

Processes for Idea Generation

The following are 3 team-based exercises that you can use to extract a high volume of ideas (for additional exercises, download the Innovation Workshop plan).

Exercise 1: Individuals, then group

Sometimes social inhibitions can stifle freedom of expression in group settings. If you think some your team may suffer from this, here’s a useful exercise to start off with:

  1. Set a clear session target statement; goal or problem
  2. Ask individuals to work on coming up with ideas alone
  3. Share all the ideas on a whiteboard
  4. As a group, brainstorm the ways existing ideas can be improved

Exercise 2: Redefine your opportunity

This exercise is about using your session target statement to look at the problem from a new perspective:

  1. Take your session target statement; for example “To sell more yoga mats to inner-city soccer mums”, and pick three words in the statement to replace, i.e. ‘SELL’, ‘YOGA MATS’ and ‘SOCCER MUMS’
  2. Brainstorm alternatives to these words
  3. Create new opportunity statements using new words. For example, one of your new session target statements could become “To PROVIDE more NEW TRIAL YOGA MATS to inner-city YOGA INFLUENCERS”
  4. Once you have the new target statements, brainstorm creative ways of solving these challenges

Exercise 3: No limits

This is an exploration of what’s possible without any of the normally assumed limitations to a problem or challenge:

  1. Tell the group to imagine that they had unlimited time, resources and talent
  2. Brainstorm all the ways the problem could be solved from this perspective
  3. Once you have a list of solutions, brainstorm what could be done to bring each solution into reality

Remember that this step is about idea generation. Not idea assessment. To learn how to evaluate and refine ideas to identify the winners, use the exercises in the Innovation Workshop plan.

Any questions?

If you have questions on this topic or any others, feel free to reach me by email or set up a free one-on-one consultation session, or drop me a comment below.

Thanks for sharing!