Key Elements for a Successful Ideation Workshop

In the last decades, ideation workshops have become a fundamental step to find new ideas and meet the significant innovation requirements currently faced by companies. LinDA here reveals the workshops’ key elements it applies during its open thinking.

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The emergence of IT has overwhelmed the link every economic field has with innovation. For one thing, digital technologies have initiated a deep transformation of the sectors that were directly concerned: multimedia, information, telephony, etc. For another thing, the arrival of IT has then disrupted other sectors, whose future connection with digital technologies had not been foreseen. The latter phenomenon has been called uberization in reference to the company Uber, which managed to bring about fundamental changes in the economic field of cabs.

As a result, all companies’ activities could only survive provided that they carried through important innovations, or at least that they modernized their structures. There is no sector that is sheltered from this necessity and every single business is led to further inventiveness to update its strategy and has to find tangible means to arouse innovation rather than passively wait for it to come.

At LinDA’s, LINAGORA’s digital agency, we believe in the efficiency of ideation workshops that can sharpen people’s creativity and come to new ideas and innovative strategy. Workshops are basically working groups whose objective is to bring new ideas and solutions that go in accordance with the business strategy of the project leader. Depending on the scale of the group, two collective ideation methods can usually be distinguished: assemblies and focus groups. The latter are covered in the article.

Along the first phase of the digital assistance offered by LinDA, which is called open thinking, we make this atmosphere of inventiveness available within our Lab, as it is necessary for the co-construction of new ideas. The point of this article is to describe the way we carry out those ideation workshops and the features that we think make them efficient if properly implemented.

How should one shape the ideation workshop team?

In the ideation process, teams are most of the time more efficient than a single person, as they can rely on a varied field of points of view and of skills. Division of labor and work specialization have made collaboration necessary to get advanced knowledge along with broad consideration perspectives. It is therefore fundamental that people with different backgrounds and skills gather to form a team. On the one hand, way more ideas are likely to come up from the workshop. On the other hand, ideas will be able to be reinforced and dealt with more deeply thanks to diverse expertise and experience. Thus, diversity of profiles is a feature that must belong to these workshop teams. One should not hesitate to include in a same group marketing or strategy specialists, analysts, software engineer, digital experts, etc. The point of forming diversified teams is to make a concordance of creative ideas emerge; this implies to rely on the diversity of stakeholders and final users’ typologies.

However, one should ensure not to form too big a team, whose scale would admittedly bring diversity, but would also hinder the ideation group’s agility and its members’ ability to collaborate properly. We recommend to opt for “pizza teams”. This term was coined by the present CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, who thinks that communication becomes “terrible” in vast groups on account of the tremendous number of mutual relationships that grow within them. One should rather choose smaller groups, whereby two pizzas would be enough to feed all the members (which accounts for the name). According to him, the optimal number of people lies between six and eight. In other words, the sought for diverse profiles should not be made at the expense of the agility of the group through forming too big ones, as it might harm its global working and its collective creativity.

Preliminary conditions for creating a “co-innovation” atmosphere

Generally speaking, one should establish the material and relational conditions that will help coworkers to get completely involved in the collective contemplation. The main objective is to institute a comfortable environment which will ban parasitizing thoughts likely to bother the workshop’s members. Those bothering thoughts can emerge from a material or effective discomfort that can harm communication. First, one should create the concrete most pleasant conditions: luminous and welcoming space, the possibility to eat, drink, etc. If possible, the chosen place and the climate should differ from the members’ routine, as this contributes to feed the inventive spirit that is required to by the workshop’s purposes. It is preferable to arrange partners in a circle rather than on both sides of a table to avoid bilateral exchanges and to create a fairly interactive network. We also advise you to ask everybody to turn off notifications of their phones to be able to fully focus on the workshop.

As regards relational comfort, one should ensure that members feel at ease with one another. A given acquaintance or appreciation is not required, however a proximity has to be settled to make exchanges easy. These members have to be aware of each other’s backgrounds in order to have a best understanding of each intervention and to be able to contextualize them. The role of the moderator must be highlighted since he is the creator of a connivance and a relaxed atmosphere. For instance, at the starting of the workshop, he can setup some introducing games (i.e. “Who am I?”, One hand paper airplanes) so participants feel comfortable and ready to be in the mood.

In addition, it is up to the animator to notify the most extrovert people having a leadership spirit. Notifying those skills, the role of the moderator is not only to make use of the suitable people bringing dynamism and authenticity to the table, but also to ensure that these “leaders” do not influence other participants’ opinions. Speaking of which, if floor is given to leaders at the end of each discussion, shy people will not be influenced when they will air their opinions.

The definition of the problem

When the animator is done with the creation of the relaxed atmosphere, and when everybody is ready to contemplate, the actual team task begins! We recommend to start with a collaborative characterization of the issue. It can be launched with a small introduction by the moderator followed by a round table. At this moment, clear-cut objectives and an exhaustive list of the issues the workshop must address have to be set. Through this process, the perspectives of reflection to shape the workshop will take place. That would be the opportunity to erect clear boundaries to ideation. The idea is to get what to avoid and what to adopt.

For example, if a workshop’s purpose is to define a new digital strategy for a company, one could use this step to remind people the company’s activity, the recent transformations of the sector, the competitors, the border fields, the customers and the values. From this stage, everybody’s opinion is meaningful and one will notice that different ways of seeing the issue are likely to appear.

The search for ideas

Once the problem has correctly been detailed, the actual research phase can begin. We suggest to proceed through several steps and animations, which should be punctuated with checkpoints and real breaks. One should diversify activities and multiply frameworks in which people think so that no point is skipped. For each step, the moderator should endeavor to give neutral instructions in order not to unconsciously influence participants. He should therefore ask open questions rather than directive ones. One is free to coordinate a great many animations or frameworks for thinking, among which we prescribe the following:

  • Role games. Everyone is assigned with a role that is bound to the sector or the research focus (i.e. a competitor, an eminent company famous for its disruptive positions, etc.). For instance, if a workshop’s main theme is energy, there could be the following possible roles: a representative from Total, representatives from states’ electricity distribution platforms, a farmer willing to recycle his waste, a IoT specialist (for his link with decentralized sources of energy), an agent from an environmental organization, etc. The organizer should not hesitate to resort to unexpected roles, which would urge people to establish original links between remote sectors. Fertile ideas could well emerge from those behaviors. It is better to choose “too” startling roles that might bring far-fetched ideas than to take only classic ones that would restrict inventiveness.
  • The Six-to-One. In this game, inspired after the consulting company Adaptive Path, a sheet of paper with six boxes is handed out to each participant. After that, each one will have a limited amount of time to find six solutions that he will then briefly present to the others. When everyone has presented his six solutions, all participants must choose one solution and prepare a longer speech to explain why this solution is the best. This game contains the intellectual approach that is typical of ideation: taking advantage of diverse profiles to come up with numerous solutions and selecting some of them to deal with it in depth.
  • Reviewing each aspect of everyday life that is concerned by the main issue. One can then wonder what could improve those situations. Allow yourself to aim at a remote ideal, for it may lead to an innovative track.
  • Drawing then using ideation cards. Ideations cards contain a word, a group of words or a phrase for which players must identify a link with the given problem. Those cards can consist of a product, a service, a concept, a general quote or a proverb (“the best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today”, “A single stick may smoke, but it will not burn”, …). Here, you can as well sort out the results and keep the best ones to go deeper.
  • Always keeping news and current events in mind. You can easily access to a list of trendy topics using social networks (the trends on Twitter with the most used “#”). There are also websites like Trendhunter which rank the trendiest topics. You just have to glean some of those subjects and ask each participant to find ties with the thinking line.

Each workshop is completed as soon as everyone was able to speak, to give ideas or to air opinions. One should ensure that all people have their own say and that strong personalities are not dominating speaking times nor initiatives.

Saving the ideas all along the workshop

One of the risks encountered by the moderator is to get carried away by the members’ good participation and not to capitalize on each idea. Each time a good idea comes out of the collective cogitation, one should systematically analyze it, go deeper, find implementation modalities, etc. At the end of each exercise, there should be a checkup about the progress of the research; if the search around an idea can go further, one should resume it as soon as possible.

Moreover, when the moderator jots down an idea or a description about one’s experience, he should always contextualize it to assign it with the importance it deserves. Indeed, an experience or an idea would often seem particularly strong if it is expressed with emotion: in cognitive science, this is called the vividness effect. For instance, if someone depicts a particularly bad user experience he has had, he is likely to be very persuasive about some details. It therefore lies with the moderator to put things into perspective for each intervention and associate it with its fair value.

For another thing, the notes should be made not only on the ideas that were found during the workshop, but also on the whole process of reflection. Those notes will make possible a more complete work in a later time to make the most of what has been found.

This work includes video recording, pictures taking, digital and paper notes. The most exhaustive notes are to be saved as the workshop’s outcome.

All in all, the workshop’s key factors rely on three pillars: a good organization, the creation of a collaborative and innovative atmosphere, and a continuous work to gather ideas the way they came up. If the workshop is perceived as amusing by participants, it is a good signal, as it means they are likely get involved more easily. It also proves that the organization was good and seems necessary for the setting of a good climate.

At Linda’s, we consider that an efficient digital assistance that fits your expectancies can be achieved only through a close collaboration with you. Those ideation workshops are the tools that enable us to establish this collaboration and to maintain it during the whole assistance. They make it possible to determine the digital strategy of the service or the product that we co-build so it is as agile as possible!

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[1] Find more information about the notion of “pizza team”: http://blog.idonethis.com/two-pizza-team/