An article in this week’s PR News, called “Ideation Creation: Culture and Clarity Keys to Driving Big Ideas,” describes some major challenges organizations face when trying to innovate.
According to the article, “the generation of ideas often suffers from a lack of clarity around the problem definition; a lack of specific customer knowledge; and a tendency to accept the status quo and make excuses for killing good ideas.”
Having faced these challenges in my work at Fleishman-Hillard, I wanted to offer some of my own tips and tools for overcoming them. These tips are based on my experiences and studies in innovation.
1. Design an implementation plan.
Before you even consider innovating around an opportunity, determine whether you have the capacity, budget and resources to implement the concepts you select during the innovation process.
2. Develop a Present Position brief.
A Present Position Brief is similar to a fact sheet in a media kit or a situation analysis in a communications plan. It lays out all the relevant information your team needs to know to tackle their opportunity in a clear and concise manner.
Everything from market research and goals for the innovation session to information about target audiences and strategic considerations should be included in a brief.
Compiling a brief is a convenient way to refresh the minds of your teammates and engage people from outside your group in your opportunity. I recommend sharing the brief with participants at least 24 to 48 hours prior to your session, and providing a copy of the brief to each participant when they enter the room.
3. Assess your target audiences.
This will help you generate ideas based on their specific needs. Ask:
- What is the present perception this audience has about our opportunity?
- What perception do we want it to have about our opportunity?
- How might we bridge the gap between current and desired perceptions?
4. Work in small groups.
The article recommended limiting the number of people in your innovation session to at most 10. (One contributor suggested engaging only two or three people.) Sometimes that’s just not possible. So I like to break bigger groups down into small groups of four to six people to brainstorm and build on ideas together. When we’re done brainstorming, I’ll ask each small group to present their ideas to the whole team. Then I’ll ask for any builds from the entire group.
5. Start with silent brainstorming.
When you start brainstorming, ask your participants to ideate silently for a few minutes. This allows them to think without influence from the other session participants. I also suggest writing all your ideas down so you can make room in your mind for new ones.
After a few minutes have passed, ask your participants to share their ideas within their small groups. To minimize pressure from teammates and group think, all participants have to share every idea they wrote down. Then, the small groups can build on their ideas together.
6. Ask: “How might we do this?”
We’ve all been in meetings and brainstorms where colleagues have dismissed our ideas immediately with phrases like “That’ll never work,” “The client won’t like it,” or, even simply “No.” These phrases always shut down the open exchange of ideas.
The fact is, not all ideas will work, and not all ideas are good, but the brainstorming phase is not the time to reject them.
Instead, take note of all ideas and when it comes time for selection, ask “How might we do this?” If an idea generates no builds, it’s probably not worth pursuing.
7. Develop criteria for success.
Too often people begin brainstorming before clearly defining what success looks like. Prepare criteria for success in advance of your session. These are standards that an idea must meet in order to warrant further exploration. Some criterion might include:
- Will the ideas generate buzz among the target audiences?
- Is it in budget?
- Can it be applied in multiple communications channels?
If your ideas don’t meet all the criterion perfectly, see if there are edits you can make to them. If not, you might have to consider implementing a different concept.
I hope you’ve found these tips and tools valuable, and that they will help you enhance innovation at your organization. Give them a try, and let us know your results. And share your own tips and tools below!
Kathie Thomas is the Director of Innovation and a senior partner at Fleishman-Hillard. The global Innovation practice group Kathie leads offers proven tools and approaches for helping organizations and teams inject a new level of innovation and productivity into their strategic planning and program development.