Five Strategies for Leading More Effective Ideation Sessions
In an ever-evolving world where change is the only constant, business professionals are being asked to build and strategize for the needs of today, while envisioning the needs of tomorrow. As such, organizations are becoming more and more reliant on ideation session to spark ideas and build future product roadmaps. Whether you use a human-centered design or design thinking approach, simply facilitating a meeting isn’t enough to secure a meaningful place for your brand in the future. In order for the session to be impactful, it’s as much about what you prepare before and after as what you do in it.
When it comes time to plan your next ideation session, consider these five components to drive success:
1. Invite the right people and prep them to engage.
When considering who to have in your next ideation session, it’s important to have the right people around the table, considering both their internal and external perspectives.
When planning your attending team include:
- Stakeholders with skin in the game and who will ultimately have some execution responsibility of ideas
- Executives who sponsor, or advocate for, the session, and encourage more active participation
- Experts who truly understand the industry and consumer perspective
- Creative thinkers or “idea people” who have a reputation for pushing the envelope
- Individuals who are truly committed to the session and to being present throughout
From an external perspective, consider:
- A facilitator who can push norms and empower internal stakeholders to engage
- Industry or trend experts
- Creative or leading-edge consumers (or other relevant external stakeholders)
- Creative designers, offering on-the-spot prototyping opportunities
Once an initial list of attendees is identified, think beyond the role or expertise that an individual brings to also balance the right group dynamics. Following that, identify what pre-work exercises might be necessary to get everyone on the same page in terms of goals, outcomes, and inspiration to get ideas flowing prior to the start of the session.
2. Focus the ideation on strategic growth territories.
Ensuring your ideation session has the right focus is essential to producing ideas that result in business results. While sessions may be centered around needs, jobs, pain points, and/or white space opportunities, taking the time to transform those into built-out strategic growth territories* allows for more in-depth understanding of guardrails, taking into account consumer, market, and business implications.
A strategic growth territory is an ownable opportunity space that reflects the consumer need and where the market is going. Key aspects of a territory include:
- A descriptive name, allowing participants to connect to and remember the opportunity in a clear way
- Reasons for consideration, articulating why this opportunity is suitable for your organization to solve
- Key consumer insights that lead to the discovery of the opportunity
- Consumer relevance, honing in on the “who” and “when” of the opportunity
- Key benefits, both implicit and explicit, that a consumer is seeking
- Inspiration, including thought starters and new innovation from other categories
3. Have hip-pocket exercises to drive new ways of thinking.
While some groups may have pent-up ideas they’re itching to share, a variety of brainstorming approaches ensures all voices have an opportunity to contribute while the groups hears and responds to all creative and new ideas.
Beyond simply open-floor brainstorming, consider mixing in a few novel strategies in your next ideation session, such as:
- Brainstorm + Build – with a list of ideas already brainstormed, take others ideas and build them further.
- Offer Prompts – build a structure by which ideas are generated, wording from the consumers’ perspective such as “It would be great it…”, “I wish…”, “How might I…”, and then generating ideas to solve them.
- Set New Guardrails – if ideas are taking shape down one single train of thought, eliminate that from the options. For instance, if ideating around new service offerings and several ideas involve technology, set a new “rule” that ideas cannot involve technology.
- De Bono Six Thinking Hats – each hat (real or virtual) represents a distinct way of thinking or customer group. Take turns wearing different hats and developing ideas through the lense of that consumer.
- Paradigm Busting – radicalize thinking by exploring existing norms and envisioning a world where those are not true.
A good rule of thumb is to have two additional exercises in your hip pocket should the session not initially produce the right type of ideas, or if idea generation hits a wall.
4. Build and maintain the energy.
While you can’t control others’ energy, you can create the right environment by engaging the senses from the start. Set the tone using strategies from thematic music, sizzle reels, or a sensory immersion kit—that all connect to the strategic growth territory you’ve uncovered and serves as an additional touchpoint to the consumer. Additionally, explore energy-building activities that get people up and moving, and re-invigorate the discussion. Customize approaches based on if the session is in-person or virtual. Check out some tips for virtual sessions here.
5. Create a communication and execution plan.
Save time in your session to gain commitment, all the while developing a communication plan for next steps. This critical step is often missed, and individuals are left with lack of clarity on their role in moving ideas to the next stage.
Ideation sessions present an opportunity to build cross-functional relationships, deepen your understanding of the consumer, and secure a position for your organization in the future. Practicing these strategies, and continuing to adapt along the way, will keep the session both engaging and productive for all stakeholders.