Ideation! Harder Than It Sounds

Ideation! Harder Than It Sounds

Ideation is key in an organization as it faces the challenges of a changing environment. What new ideas, thoughts, understanding, and logic can we bring to the situation before us. This may sound easy, but I have found that when challenged to do so, the thought process slows down very quickly, and after a few ideas have been thrown out and rejected, a form of hopelessness takes over. Face Idea Generation is Hard!

 

So how to solve this problem?

Working with some teams recently, I have come across the following system, which, while not perfect, helps get closer to what we want to achieve. For example, let’s say the topic is “Grow repeat business.”

 

100 Ideas, No Less

When starting the process with your team, the first rule is that we will not stop with ideation until we have at least 100 ideas on the board. Not only do we need 100 ideas, but no one is allowed to criticize, demean, promote, or challenge any idea until the 100 are there. This rule’s logic is to stop ideas from being shut down by some of the dominant participants. It is hard to get 100 ideas up on the board, and we progress through them, they get crazier, but that is sometimes where the gems lie. So, following our example, we could have the following ideas:

  • Create a membership club
  • Offer discounts to repeat customers.
  • Provide value behind a paywall for member customers
  • Offer bundling
  • Offer easy returns, e.g., Zappos.
  • Provide special shopping events for repeat customers or members
  • Offer suggestions to customers based on what they have purchased.
  • Free shipping for members
  • Special shopping days for members only
  • Early access to new products for members or repeat customers
  • Send you products that we believe you want and if you don’t return them then charge for them.

As can be seen from the above, many of these ideas are common, and we have seen them with Amazon and others. However, at one time, they were all new. Also, the last one, someone might think is “crazy,” but it doesn’t matter; it is still an idea to be put down.

 

Mind Map

Once you’re over 100 and there are no more ideas, time to organize. If there are still ideas at 100, don’t stop. I find organizing through Mind Mapping the best. For those of you who haven’t done Mind Mapping, take your ideas and organize them into “topics.” Elaborate on those by creating sub-topics and use short phrases or single words to identify them. Thus, once done, your 100+ ideas are organized into subtopics within topics, so it is easier to look at what each is seeking to achieve. In some cases, the ideas are just variations on prior ideas to be lumped into one. So, again looking at the ideas above, we could organize them as follows:

Membership Ease of Use Promotions
Create a club Offer easy returns Special shopping events
Provide additional value for members Offer bundling Discounts
Special shopping events for members Offer suggestions to customers based on prior purchases Special shopping days
Free shipping for members Free shipping for everyone  
Early access to new products for members   Early access to new products for prior customers
Send products and customer decides if they want them.    

 

10% AND ?

Once we have divided everything into our subtopics, then we go through them one by one. Each person has to identify at least 10 percent of what they like about any idea and then add to it. The next person builds on the last person’s statement, again identifying at least 10% they like and then adding to it. This ensures that nothing is shut down and that the creative exercise can take place. By having to build on something regardless of whether or not you agree, forces you to find the best in it and make it better – KAIZEN. The number of participants in the meeting will determine how many times you go around. As you go around, each iteration is recorded. This process further frees the imagination as you have to identify something you like about the statement before you and add something good. At the end of this process, some excellent ideas may have been arrived at. Then you can use a multiple voting system for the participants to identify what they like best.

 

So, Give it a try!

So, give it a try; you may find you get some fascinating and novel ideas from your group. Besides, as the group’s ideas flow, you should find a greater commitment to the ideas than those that the usual dominant people promote.

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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Concerning where you are and where you need to be when COVID is over, you need to take a realistic look at your organization and do a gap analysis on:

  • strengths and weaknesses,
  • culture and core values,
  • human and capital resources,
  • processes and systems,
  • customers and buying habits,
  • product and service delivery,
  • suppliers, and
  • competition.

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Culture

Culture has never been more critical. If employees adhere to the company’s core values and live its culture, then provided they know the organizational goals, they can make the right decisions. Moving decision making down to the front lines is critical during the next twelve months as the environment changes quickly. Having the decision process moving up and down the organization is a luxury few can afford.

For a great reminder, look at Turn the Ship Around by Capt. below.

Further, reading “Adaptation under Fire: How Militaries Change in Wartime,” by Lt. General David Barno and Nora Bensahel, there are several crucial lessons for management.

  • Everyone Knew the Mission, not just the task. Post World War I, decentralized, independent battlefield actions, a tradition in German military thinking, returned and became a central tenet of German army doctrine. Mission orders were regularly emphasized and practiced during peacetime training exercises.
  • Continuous Improvement. The German army established the culture of relentlessly critiquing its leaders and units’ performance in exercises and war games. Commanders and staff officers at all levels were expected to do so candidly and objectively, without regard to personal embarrassment or potential career damage. This candor extended to critiquing the performance of senior officers and higher headquarters as well. These principles made German doctrine inherently adaptable in the face of battle.
  • Changing the rules of the Game. The French army believed the next war would be the same as WWI. French interwar thinking focused primarily on leveraging defensive operations to prevail in any future conflict. Thus, they undertook no “no large-scale examination of the lessons of the last war by a significant portion of the Officers Corps.” In contrast, the Germans examined how to use new technologies to change the “Rules of the Game” and win using offensive operations. They improved their Blitzkrieg tactics that had great success in World War II.

I would bring these lessons into your organization as part of any new model to succeed. Regarding business Blitzkrieg offensives, I would look to John Boyd and his OODA Loop as a better model.

Process and Systems

As you examine your processes and systems, I would recommend asking, “If we didn’t do it this way, would we?” and “Will these systems get us to where we need to be?” In many cases, with the acceleration that has been experienced, the answer may be no. Thus, put together multifunctional teams together to examine these and use different problem-solving models, as I mentioned in “Want the Best Results, Get out of your Comfort Zone.” Some I would look to are:

  • Get out of your comfort zone. Change the environment or put limitations on the team. Use Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, where each card puts a constraint on the team to help too when teams are struggling to break through a problem. They are available on Amazon.
  • Break your business process down to its most simplified version, e.g., ship a product to a customer and then work on new solutions. The more you define the process in the question, the more you are tied to that system in the solution. By being most simple, you can expand the range of solutions.
  • New ideas, enforce the rule that you cannot challenge any idea until 100 are developed. This rule stops the thought process from being shut down early by those that oppose change, and often the craziest ideas come at the end, but a gem of something great.
  • Also, in examining systems, take a look at Tom Wujec’s TED Talk, “Got a Wicked Problem, First Tell Me How You Make Toast,” below.

Using these problem-solving methods, if done correctly, could provide an additional benefit, reinforcing your culture and camaraderie among your employees, which has been challenging to do during our COVID work from home.

Contact me if you need help facilitating any of these processes as you look ahead as I wish you all the best succeeding in 2022 and beyond.

Copyright (c) 2020, Marc A. Borrelli

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