For many people, ideation is an exciting process. It is fun to be creative and try to think of things in new or different ways. But how do you know which ideas are good? All too often, people will generate a large list of ideas that stagnate under the burden of trying to sort and prioritize them. Recently the NY Times had a good article on innovation NYTimes: cultivating new ideas. The article notes several things that I have used in my practice for successful ideation:

  1. Innovation needs to be a mind-set. Too often we try to schedule innovation. Although we may need to schedule a time for detailed discussion, it is important that we are always open to innovation. Whether it is on the floor, in a meeting, or at lunch; ideas surround us, and we need to be aware of the potential in order to capitalize on them.
  2. Speed is critical. It is important to move through the process and keep momentum going to move things forward.
  3. Be nimble. The number of people in the sessions needs to be manageable. I often use 6-12 people. Enough to have several viewpoints and be able to generate good ideas, but not so many that the session is difficult to facilitate.
How do you get from a list of ideas to a few concepts that you actually want to pursue?

My goal is to make the down-select process visible and easy. For visibility, each stakeholder votes on the idea, all at the same time. Making it public, minimizes people influencing each other’s vote. In the NY Times article, they use three options: “wow, nice, and who cares”. As the list of concepts is reviewed, each person, all at once, holds up the card that represents their vote. By simplifying the options, it is also easier to reach a conclusion.

But each person has a different viewpoint and may have limited information.  In order to make an informed decision, it is important to understand “why” you are having the ideation session. Is there a new customer need? Is there a new technology available that you would like to leverage? Is there a regulatory change? What is important to the business: Cost, time to market, ease of manufacture? All of these answers can be utilized to develop filter criteria to determine which concepts are more viable. It is best to develop these criteria before the ideation concept list is created in order to:

  1. Enable speed. Gathering these criteria can take time which would prevent the team from capitalizing on the momentum of the process. With the list in hand, one can immediately move forward with the discussion of the concepts and the down select process.
  2. Provide clarity. When facilitating the ideation process, it is important to understand the boundaries. While it is true that no path should be thrown out until all the ideas are gathered, it is the facilitator’s job to steer the group into various areas of discussion. Areas that are totally outside the scope can be minimized by understanding the criteria.

Once gathered, these criteria should be prioritized. Most likely each criteria is not weighted the same.  If there are many criteria, using a DMAIC approach such as a 1, 3, 9 (Low, Med, High), can be useful in distinguishing the filter criteria from each other while making it easier to reach agreement on its priority. Alternative scales may be also be used, for example if there are only a few criteria, it may be simple to use a 1 to 10 scale.

Now the criteria can be easily shared with the group. The facilitator will need to decide when to share the criteria. Sometimes it can be useful to share the criteria before ideas are generated. The risk is that this information can confine people to a very fixed space. My preference is to give a more general overview in the beginning of the process as part of the introduction. Then give a more detailed explanation of the constraints once a list of concepts is generated and we are moving into the down select process. This provides a uniform context that each person can rely upon in addition to their individual experience to help winnow down the list of ideas to a manageable lists of concepts to pursue further.

Ideation can be fun. With a little planning, you will be rewarded with more successful concepts that can be pursued by your business.