Ideas and Strategy at OpenNest
Some Frameworks and Approaches
note: This is an internal document that can be found in our Warpcore, a growing collection of our internal tools turned public. It’s presented unvarnished, so some of the language is specific to its original format.
I N T R O D U C T I O N
I’m writing this document to support our organizational emphasis on novel, effective solutions. At OpenNest, we recognize that innovation is not an abstract value, but is measurable and underpinned by intentional methodology. There are systems that give rise to increasingly creative and effective solutions, but we must understand the how and why of these systems if we are going to employ them (for ourselves and for our clients). Herein we’ll explore some of these systems, but it is most important to understand the values that guide them. When we understand what values we’re working toward, we can understand how to improve the systems themselves.
Much like a wiki, this document should be community-supported and evolve as we become more advanced practitioners of the art and science of creativity. Feel free to make changes as you feel necessary. No need to ask for permission. Google Drive’s versioning system allows us to back out of any serious mistake, so charge onward.
O N P R O D U C I N G I D E A S A N D C O N C E P T S
WTF EVEN IS “IDEATION”
“Ideation sessions” are a common part of most creative-productive environments. Often times they look like getting a bunch of people in a room, talking for a few minutes about a problem or a customer or a campaign, and then people start “ideating.” This usually consists of a few hours of unstructured conversation, some sticky notes being put on whiteboards, and ad nauseam discussion of the good or bad of a given idea. This is, for the most part, a colossal waste of time as has been shown by numerous cognitive studies. Not the principles that drive us to ideation, but the process that winds up taking shape lead us astray.
WORKING PRINCIPLES of IDEATION
So if the process is flawed, but the principles are good, what are the principles most ideation processes are trying to capture? What are the values the ideal process generates?
- COLLABORATION | Pooling together different expertise and perspectives in order to stimulate cross-fertilization of ideas. Combines different pieces of knowledge to generate novelty. Harnesses the collective knowledge of a group.
- NOVELTY | The uniqueness of ideas generated. Measured against the general set of ideas in the relevant field, novelty is a product of 1) unique combinations of existing knowledge or 2) unique deployments of well-developed ideas.
- IMPACT | The usefulness or reach of ideas generated. Should be a major component evaluated when considering which ideas to prioritize. Note: predictions of impact are impossible to make well (especially with truly novel ideas) so it is important to continuously monitor and measure.
- RECOGNITION | The ability of the group to sense the quality of an idea and generate a reasonable, safe path for trying it.
If those four principles are present and acting when we do strategy and ideas right, then I think we are forced to recognize the failings of the sit-around-and-talk-about-it method. In our go to, cognitive biases and social dynamics lead to the loudest and most confidently presented ideas being discussed, and interrupt the ability for group knowledge to be harnessed in the synthesis of novel, impactful new ideas.
So what can we do? At OpenNest, we’re always excited at the opportunities offered by technology, and there exists a really wonderful tool that is changing the way we do early stage strategy and idea generation. It is called Candor.
WHY USE CANDOR?
One of the largest pitfalls of the group meeting is that it only celebrates certain personalities–those that feel comfortable and confident speaking to a group. Further, in group meetings we typically don’t start crafting ideas until after we’ve heard the opinions of the rest of the group, so we’re under tremendous pressure to offer ideas that fit the narrow construct and values stated or implied. We’re using Candor to allow ideas to be generated privately and outside of these constructs, then evaluating them together. This allows generation and evaluation to be separate, unique processes.
HOW TO RUN IDEATION MEETINGS at OPENNEST
STEP 1 Elect a facilitator (most easily done via Slack). Ideally this person is not the team lead, but someone who can organize the meeting before hand, make sure that team members are participating, and move the meeting through each subsequent step.
STEP 2 Focus the team. Send out the core question or problem to be solved to the team members by sending a link via Candor.
STEP 3 Generate ideas in private, before any discussion. Submit through candor (either web-based or smartphone app). We’ve found this is most effective if the first 5–20 minutes of the allotted meeting time are dedicated to this. Silence is critical. Often times team members disburse through the office to spaces where they feel the most creative. Facilitator calls for time.
STEP 4 Put ideas on display. Use large screens or screenshare and the Candor web app to show ideas to the community. Round table, and allow everyone to clarify the ideas they submitted. No discussion on value yet.
STEP 5 Begin to evaluate. Open up the floor to discussion and critique of ideas. Remember the core principles: we’re selecting for novelty and impact, as well as trying to understand the risk of trying a given activity.
STEP 6 Clarify and simplify. Eliminate ideas the group feels would not be safe to try or do not address the core question. Modify and combine ideas that merit it. Add new ideas if they emerge.
STEP 7 Vote! Use Candor to vote on ideas. If a clear winner stands out, move forward to planning and execution. If a few ideas are close, then return to step five.
Credit where it’s due! This is a process that was built from the core process described by the Candor team, not something we invented out of thin air.