How To Kill Ideas

innovation_process_suicide_thumbSo you’re ready to embark on the innovation process. As with any adventure, there are great hazards surrounding every opportunity for great reward, at each step along the way. And if you’re not prepared, those hazards become significantly more likely to become a reality and swallow up your process—and all your ideas with it. Here are four things that will kill your process and ideas before they even have a chance to live. But fear not—as a good adventure guide, I'll also share ways to sidestep these pitfalls and plan for a successful innovation session.

1. Have unclear expectations

Without a goal to work towards or a central purpose to guide the process and return to when things get off track, it’s easy to suffer from a lack of momentum and flail around in uncertainty.

To avoid this, come up with a measurable goal so you can track your accomplishments: 5 ideas outlined, a list of insights to test, 10 concepts written and tested, and so on. It can be exhilarating to have a huge list of great ideas, but unless you have a plan for moving towards your planned output, momentum is slowed or stopped entirely, leading to wasted effort, time, and the sad death-by-neglect of ideas.

2. Invite the wrong people

There’s a reason why traditional dinner parties use assigned seating: there’s an art to putting the right people together in a way that will spark lively conversation. Take this concept into account when planning your innovation process.

  1. Include a 360-degree sample of your key players. This may include R&D, brand managers, market researchers, and others. Each has a unique and valuable perspective.
  2. Consumers are key. Don’t wait until late in your innovation process to see what your consumers think. It’s crucial to invite them to the table early and often, from the fuzzy front end to the positioning of the final concept.
  3. Don’t try to facilitate yourself. Facilitating your own process – or, worse yet, having no one facilitate your process—is one of the quickest ways to end up in innovation intensive care. For one thing, if you are spending all your time trying to herd cats, you will have little energy left for contributing your own ideas and expertise. Secondly, you can avoid some office politics when you have an objective facilitator. And, thirdly, an expert in creative process will move your group along much more efficiently, which means you’ll spend much more of your time innovating and much less time managing the process.

3. Focus too much on one part of the process

This is an easy trap to fall into, especially if you don’t have an expert facilitator guiding your process. A creative process usually falls into a basic pattern: first diverge (ideate) and then converge (narrow down on your biggest opportunities).

Research on creativity styles and personality types shows that different people are most comfortable at different stages of that process. Some people just love to ideate and never run out of ideas. They’re energized by possibilities and can leave an ideation session feeling exhilarated and accomplished. On the other hand, those who are most comfortable with converging will tend to leave an ideation session feeling edgy and wondering how it will ever be possible to reign in the expansive thinking and head towards the goal.

Both types of people are right: the danger with too much ideating is that if you get stuck in ideation mode, you’ll never move forward and achieve your goal. But if you breeze past ideation too quickly and rush to come up with your final answer, you’re just as likely to stunt your innovation process. Fortunately, it balances out: you need a large breadth and depth of ideas in order to find the best ones, so make sure to spend enough time diverging before you start converging.

4. Use critical thinking at the wrong times

Critical thinking is great, but you need to reserve it for the right parts of your innovation process. Otherwise you’ll kill your team’s creativity and your ideas will be safe, staid and spiritless—never the goal of innovation.

In the diverging/ideating phase of ideation, you need to set some of your critical thinking aside and reserve it for later. At Ideas To Go, we have a philosophy called Forness® thinking. The key takeaway from Forness® thinking is that in order to get breakthrough thinking from your team, you need to create an environment where new ideas aren’t squelched the minute they escape from someone’s mouth.

Since human nature has led us to notice the negatives more quickly than we notice the positives, we’ve decided to work with that tendency instead of against it. We train all of our project participants to first look for the good in an idea, and then look for ways it can be improved. So even the most off-the-wall idea can lead to a very realistic and compelling one.

When it comes time to converge down to the best ideas, that’s when you can bring your critical thinking skills back into play. Forness allows this by inviting everyone to participate in improving ideas and problem solving by keeping the usable parts of an idea intact, rather than throwing the whole thing out from the beginning.

For an innovation process that thrives, be sure to take these elements into consideration—or watch all your ideas die a slow and grisly death. 

©2013 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jill Reiswig

Jill Reiswig is the Content Marketing Manager at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.