10 key steps for running an awesome ideation session
Dr Ken Hudson shares his 10 key guidelines for a productive ideation session that has momentum before it even starts.
I have been designing and running ideation sessions for the past 10 years across a wide range of different industries, categories and brands. For better or worse these are the guidelines I always suggest to my clients when they want to run these types of sessions. I have learned through experience that these guidelines greatly increase the chances of running an awesome session and to reach the objectives of the day.
Here they are in no particular order:
1. Invite a diverse group
Creativity often emerges from the interactions between a diverse group of team members. On the day you are looking for people who see the world differently yet want to collaborate to design breakthrough ideas or solutions.
Ideally you want people that are close to the problem and some that are outside of it. In my experience the more diverse the better — invite some consumers, clients, partners and suppliers for example.
Remember you can never predict who in the group will come up with the ‘aha’ moment. A fresh idea can come from the most unexpected of people, times and places.
2. Send out the brief 48 hours before
It is always a good idea to send out the brief beforehand. In the brief you should outline ‘why’ the session is being held, ‘what’ the goals and objectives are and confirm the logistics of the day. Also you might include how the ideas are to be evaluated (this saves lots of discussion and potential arguments later on).
This also ensures that people can start thinking about the session and it avoids any wasted time in going over the brief.
3. Set some pre-work
I have found that this is an important ingredient in ensuring the success of the day. Most people will say they are too busy but persevere. I like to ask every participant to bring along at least one idea from an unrelated industry. This has two big advantages. The first is that you can learn, borrow or adapt from other categories and industries and, second, if you invite 10 people and they each bring three ideas, the session starts with 30 ideas. This creates progress, momentum and confidence right from the kick-off.
4. Select an insightful venue
This is an often over-looked ingredient of a successful session. Selecting a venue that is creative and complements the goals of the session is worth spending some time planning. There is research, for example, that suggests the height of the ceiling can have an impact on the creative output of the group (ie. the higher the ceiling the better!).
Two examples: for a kids’ brand we held the ideation session outdoor in a playground and for a brand aimed at the mature age market we held it at a RSL club.
5. Provide new stimulus throughout the day
This is important on a number of levels. First, in an age of interruption and distraction (eg. texting) it is becoming extremely difficult to hold people’s attention for any length of time so new stimulus is an absolute must.
It could be having your existing products handy, the competitive product range, motivating music, some amazing Youtube videos, or the latest ads from a range of different categories.
In one two-day conference for a food brand, for example, I encouraged the team to cook a meal with the competitor’s products at the end of the first day. This was not only a fun, team-building exercise but they gained a richer insight into the strengths and weaknesses of their competition.
6. Use some new tools
Brainstorming is the most popular creative thinking tool for groups. It is a simple, fun and social way to generate new ideas. But it also favours the more extroverted members of your team and people can go missing as their attention wanders. So, by all means, use this technique during the day but consider some others as well.
For example, try using The Power of Three*. This is where you ask the group to generate some usual ideas, then a range of different and radical concepts. This gives people permission to offer up those left-field thoughts and it is a great way to evaluate ideas.
7. Invite a graphic designer
I love this suggestion, particularly for product innovation or NPD ideation sessions. If you can invite a graphic designer they can quickly take some of the best ideas and bring them to life before the group.
This means that people can better visualise their ideas and it stimulates even more suggestions. For example, ‘Imagine if the packaging was more child-like’, or ‘How would this fit in the consumer’s handbag’.
8. Evaluate as you go
The conventional wisdom is to evaluate at the end of the session. But I have often found that many groups run out of time to evaluate and this is left to a smaller group. This means that the people who created the idea are not involved in evaluating it, which I believe is a real problem.
Under this scenario the group are not entirely clear what the next steps might be because they do not know what are the best ideas.
There is a better way: evaluate as you go.
You can use a simple traffic light system for example. Green is for the ideas that are right on brief, the amber ideas need more work and the red ideas are not quite right.
9. Agree next steps
Each session should finish with a broad agreement on who is doing what and when.
One of the most common criticisms of ideation sessions are that they are good fun but participants are not sure what happens next.
This should be avoided at all costs. Generating a short action-plan for the high priority ideas is a positive and practical step. The value of the session will be wasted if there are no concrete next steps.
10. Follow up quickly
This is another trap for the unwary. Too many sessions end on a high, yet the notes are not sent out for a few weeks. This results in a loss of momentum and people struggle with remembering the ideas or capturing the energy of the group at that moment.
These are guidelines only of course. But in my experience if you follow these you are well on the way to running a successful and memorable ideation session.
* Developed by Dr Ken Hudson – see The Idea Generator (Allen & Unwin).