As exciting as it is, the front end of innovation can be stressful—and even seem chaotic to some. Like good and bad cholesterol, when it comes to chaos, there’s good chaos and there’s bad chaos.
The bad chaos comes in different forms: conflicting objectives, too many decision makers, too few champions, or unclear instructions. Even if a session like this ends with plenty of ideas, they may not be the kind the team needs—so it all just seems like a frustrating waste of time. Is it any wonder that this sort of chaos gives brainstorming such a bad reputation?
Then there’s good chaos. Good chaos is planned, yet loose at the right time with the right boundaries. When it comes to ideation, it’s important to explore an innovation challenge from multiple perspectives—with people from a variety of backgrounds, bringing something different to the party, and seeing the challenge from many different angles. The process should involve a variety of activities and stimulation, and if done right, it should feel like chaos.
For example, during ideation we often call clients in from the back room and pair them up with our Creative Consumers® associates. As the pairs discuss, you can feel the energy in the room grow. It gets loud. Some people gesture wildly. Others examine pictures and items for inspiration. One group builds a prototype with Play-Doh and straws, while another leaves the office altogether to walk and talk.
At times like this, ideation really does seem chaotic. Yet, because each group is working toward a goal, it’s chaos with meaning—and gives the team permission to expand their thinking around that purpose. The key is to let go and give in to the chaos—which frees everyone to identify the many different ways to tackle the opportunity.
Again, just like cholesterol, the difference between good chaos and bad chaos during ideation is what it’s made of. Bad chaos at the front end of innovation begins with conflicting objectives—then meanders, gets little accomplished, and fails to produce results. Good chaos lets teams throw themselves into ideation—because the purpose, selected direction and well thought-out boundaries provide confidence that they have a balance of direction and freedom to explore, while also knowing they’re achieving their objectives.
Beth Storz is President and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go. She co-authored the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward." Beth has been a guest on many innovation podcasts and her work has been featured in media outlets such as HuffPost and Fortune. Beth holds a BS in Business Management from Cornell University and a MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, and has worked in brand management at some of the premier consumer packaged goods companies—including Unilever, Kraft and Nabisco. Since joining Ideas To Go, Beth has established herself as a leader in the Innovation landscape and designed and facilitated projects for hundreds of companies—from CPG to financial services to pharmaceuticals.