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Ideation Workshop – How professionals develop outstanding ideas

When good advice is darely needed and ideas are rare, an ideation workshop can help. Ideation is a synonym for idea development or idea creation. It doesn’t always have to be about solutions, though. Sometimes, quite different ideas are required.

These 7 questions determine the success or failure of the ideation workshop

1. What ist the goal of an idea Workshop?

“Ideas” of course. That much is clear. But which ideas are being sought? Is innovation the goal? Or are a few options for the Christmas party enough? Typically, the following types of ideas are sought in ideation workshops:

  • Problem Ideas
    What could we help the customer or target group with? Which needs have priority? Who might have unresolved challenges? Which sectors do we want to examine?
  • Solution Ideas
    How do we get rid of a recognized problem? Can there be a solution or is the idea a dead end? With a technical solution or as a clever business model?
  • Vision Ideas
    What could it be that drives us together? What will the future bring? How can you imagine an ideal world?
  • “What-if” Ideas
    We could maybe … . Shouldn’t we be able to us that for …? What if we…? Has anyone ever tried…?

A clear vision is important. An expectation of the number of ideas also helps with orientation. An ideation workshop can only be effective if it asks the right questions . Otherwise the team will quickly go in circles. Verbal battles, helplessness, frustration. And the realization “next time please without me”.

A few good ideas are better than a lot of bad ideas. ‘The more ideas the better’ is outdated.

Tip: Bring examples. Two examples of ideas that would be acceptable as a solution. And two examples that would not be acceptable. Plus a few good answers about what’s good and bad about it. A short preparation that works wonders.

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2. WHO IS PARTICIPATING IN THE WORKSHOP?

The number of participants should be chosen correctly. Too few team members in the idea workshop and you quickly go in circles. Too many participants means: a lot is touched upon and nothing is thought through to the end. Four to seven participants is good. The more diverse, the better. The following dimensions ensure a successful ideation workshop:

  • Professional background
    From humanities scholars to craftsmen, from natural scientists to business economists and from trainees to academics, everyone is welcome.
  • Gender mixture
    A same-sex group often develops a momentum of its own that is difficult to control. This applies to purely male groups as well as to purely female groups.
  • Different Characters
    Whether Belbin team roles, Myers Briggs (MBTI), TMS, HATS, Big 5 or introversion and extroversion. Homogeneity reduces diversity.
  • Age
    Various generations bring different experiences and preferences to the table. That’s good.

Diverse participants ensure diverse ideas. What is also important: Who will later sell and represent the idea? Therefore, it helps to involve multipliers and opinion leaders at an early stage. Finding the perfect mix is ​​difficult. Especially if attention is paid to voluntariness in the team. Which is strongly recommended.

Sometimes the team is better when you have the strongest player on the bench.

Tip: A one-on-one interview to screen candidates for the ideas workshop . This is a good way to assess motivation, mood and contribution to the topic. It also reduces the warm-up phase in the idea workshop and gets into work mode faster.

3. Who facilitates the Ideation Workshop?

Good results need moderation. A good moderator and facilitator in the ideation workshop has at least the following qualities:

  • Experience in moderation and facilitation
    Training as a moderator is not strictly mandatory. An extensive wealth of experience in moderating idea workshops is also sufficient. Without any previous moderation experience, this won’t be fun for either party.
  • Technical know-how on the subject
    Whoever moderates does not have to be an absolute expert on the subject. But being able to have a say is necessary. First, to have credibility among the participants. And secondly, to distinguish smoke grenades from constructive-critical contributions.
  • Neutrality
    Everyone is equal in the ideas workshop. At least that’s the theory. In practice, of course, there are still executives, rookies, self-promoters and crooks. A few unbalanced positive comments from the moderator and the credibility of the supposedly neutral moderator is quickly gone.
  • Inspiration
    The first ideas are not a hurdle. It only gets exciting when everyone has brainstormed. Then the moderation has to provide further impetus. Ideation does not mean just collecting what is already known anyway. New thinking is required. A good portion of inspiration for the team is often necessary.
  • Ability to deal with conflict
    Idea workshops are not just cozy get-togethers. Only those who can tame creative and destructive forces have the chance to lead the team to the goal. That includes enduring a bit of friction.

Sometimes budget is not eagerly thrown at a professional moderatior. In these cases, someone with experience from other areas of the company can be a way out. Free of charge, neutral and also from the same stable with relevant industry background. The risk of the idea workshop failing should not be taken. Once a topic has gotten a bad rep, it is really difficult to bring it back to life.

Failure is allowed. But not because of incorrect procedures or foreseeable omissions.

Tip: In the case of larger groups, controversial topics, deadlocked situations and high-ranking participants, doubling facilitation efforts with a well-coordinated dual leadership in the moderation can help.

4. WHERE WILL THE WORKSHOP TAKE PLACE?

First of all, where the workshop should rather not take place: In the daily work environment, i.e. in the office! With colleagues snowing in, project folders in the corner and gray tables on a gray carpet. The environment determines focus, distraction and inspiration. And for that, the everyday office environment is pretty much the worst choice. The location should meet the following conditions:

  • New Environment for Everyone
    Entrenched habits lead to entrenched thoughts. Anyone who sees something new can think of something new more easily. A change of scenery helps.
  • No distraction coming from daily business
    Isolation from disrupting colleagues, appointments and background noise is key. Depending on the demands on the new ideas, maybe even access to telephone and internet should be temporarily disabled.
  • Inspiration for the participants
    This is where the participants differ. While engineers are mainly inspired by technology, sparsity and a lot of “white walls” often help creative designers. Plants and nature are always good choices. Above all, there should be things to touch. This promotes thinking with your hands.
  • Location Flexibility
    No location is perfect. So the space must be adaptable to suit the number of participants, the procedures and the objective. Fixed tables are a clear warning signal.

Get out of your comfort zone: Seeing the same things all the time also makes our thinking go in circles!

Tipp: Avoid high-gloss surroundings and perfect designer locations. It looks nice, but doesn’t invite to tackle problems. Prefer working atmosphere, pieced together furniture, variety and surprises. Perfection creates barriers.

5. WHICH TOOLS ARE USED IN THE IDEATION WORKSHOP?

Brainstorming is always the first step. It is the simplest ideation tool. And sometimes that’s enough. But there is usually a quick dead-end which makes it clear for everyone that brainstorming alone does not get you anywhere. Then it is important to use the right tools. Possible approaches are:

  • Design Thinking
    Can be used where target audiences can be observed and interviewed.
  • Inventive Problem Solving TRIZ
    Well suited in case of technical complexity.
  • Classic creativity techniques
    Particularly suitable for “what-if” ideas and ideas that do not have to meet high standards.
  • Patterns, examples & transfer
    Also suitable for “what-if” ideas. Especially to inspire less experienced idea developers.

Despite the best tools, people remain human. The blinders will return and psychological inertia will limit ideas. It is also important to have tools in your quiver for this. Mister Negative, the red yes-but card and regular warm-ups, ice-breakers and brain resetters definitely belong in the toolbox.

A fool with a tool is still a fool. Tools cannot replace thinking.

Tip: Plan ahead and think through the overall workshop. For example with the moderator and one or two experts. In this way, it quickly becomes clear which answers will come anyway, where it will be difficult, and which tools should be ready to hand.

6. HOW ARE IDEAS EVALUATED IN THE IDEas WORKSHOP?

All ideas are good. But not all ideas are immediately usable. How can ideas be evaluated effectively? A good idea evaluation fulfills the following conditions:

  • Appreciation of the idea contributor
    The idea contributor is not alienated. Otherwise he will be careful not to express controversial approaches again.
  • Target orientation of the evaluation
    An idea is only good, bad or irrelevant in relation to the set objective. Whether the idea can be valuable elsewhere might be of secondary interest.
  • Development perspective of the idea
    A raw idea remains a raw idea. The potential for groundbreaking success lies only in further development. Development potential is therefore crucial for a good idea evaluation.
  • Objectivity of the assessment
    A comprehensible assessment creates credibility in the organization. Otherwise there is a risk that the assessment will be questioned and ideas thrown overboard.
  • Consistency of the criteria
    Even three months after the ideation workshop, understanding why an idea was sifted out, should still be understandable. Otherwise the game will quickly start all over again.

If question 1 “What is the goal of the ideas workshop?” was not worked properly, you now have to compare world formulas against wishes for the canteen menu and trouser buttons. Not an easy task.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; little minds discuss people [Eleanor Roosevelt]

Tip: Good evaluation criteria combine two things. Firstly, criteria that have proven their worth for the topic being worked on. No idea workshop is done for the first time. There have always been benchmarks for evaluating certain types of ideas. And secondly: company-specific criteria. This reflects the company’s goals, preferences and political mood. Only the combination of these two halves creates a solid result.

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7. WHO IMPLEMENTS THE IDEA AFTER THE IDEATION WORKSHOP?

The idea is only a means to an end. The implementation is what matters. But why do we ask ourselves the question of the implementer already in the workshop? Because ideas are like other people’s holiday photos. What inspires the creator is usually just plain boring for many others. So it is best to think about the implementation directly in the idea workshop. What should the implementer bring with him or her?

  • Commitment to the idea
    Believing in the idea is essential. Mediocre commitment is the best guarantee that the idea will fail.
  • Perseverance
    Quick enthusiasm often leads to even quicker indifference. Perseverance, stamina and persistence turn ideas into reality.
  • Broad support in the organization
    Lone fighters have a hard time. Only those who can count on broad support in the organisation will succeed in actually realising ideas.
  • Experience in implementing ideas
    There is always a first time. The first time is rarely a brilliant achievement. This is especially important if the idea is to become a quick and sure success.

Ideas are worthless as long as no one takes the risk of implementing them.

Tip: Voluntariness is the best basis for successful implementation. An enthusiastic description of the project is good advertising and creates attention. In case of doubt, the person who gave the idea should always take the lead. Gladly with a team of other convinced comrades-in-arms.

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