Running effective ideas-generation sessions

The following points were inspired by Bruce Mau Design’s An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. They provide a good foundation to present my thoughts on the conditions necessary to maximise the creative return from an ideas-generation session.

3. Process is more important than outcome. When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been.

The journey is the point. Pick a process (car? Or train?), set an approximate course and go! Ideas will be found along the way, and not at the end.

A process could be: let’s pick random nouns out of a dictionary and come up with associations between that noun and our challenge.

A classic no-no is setting tight outcome-oriented parameters (“we can only think up ideas for ads”)

8. Drift. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.

As you go along on your journey, take detours. Go down tourist drive routes. Stop at a different diner every time. Invent new toilet-stop games… Be open to the possibilities each situation presents, without judgement.

If a mere child can turn a cardboard box into a shop, a plane, a submarine, a house, a coffin… what’s your excuse?!

A common no-no is passing judgement too early. Ideas need nurturing and freedom to grow into other ideas. In our society, we are trained to pass judgements. There are many reasons why participants are tempted to pass judgements; such as feeling the need to prove their worth.

Reserve judgement for the implementation phase, when the ideas with most potential are turned into actions and measurable results.

43. Power to the people. Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.

People will only freely share their ideas and thoughts if they feel safe (ie in control), comfortable and respected. If their feel that what they say will be judged, they will filter their thoughts. There will be no sparks.

This is where you need to carefully select the personalities in the group, to avoid the more domineering ones smothering the quieter ones. This is where a good facilitator can be invaluable. Remember, if you have a bossy boss who has to be involved in a session, an external facilitator can get away with asking him or her to pipe down a moment and give someone else a chance to speak!

Bullies can quickly destroy the mood of a session. This can be a tricky challenge as often the bully only become apparently during the course of the session. Thankfully I have never had to ask anyone to leave yet.

(I did once experience an act of bullying perpetrated by a co-facilitator – he held up his hand a foot from my face, as I was speaking, to shut me up so he can cut in with what he wanted to say! Naturally, I never worked with him again.)

And lastly, as a measure of how well your ideas-generation sessions are going, look for laughter. 41. Laugh. … I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.

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