Online Innovation and Ideation

Moving your innovation efforts online isn’t the easiest process. Innovation is an all-hands-on-deck endeavor that takes onboarding and persuasion, and in-person ideation and convergence are immersive experiences that are difficult to replicate. The good news is, with the right tools and techniques, remote ideation can get you the same high-quality results as in-person projects.

Before we move into facilitating an effective online ideation process, it might be helpful to review our tips for running a scrappy innovation project—the steps will be very similar, except with more screen time.

With a general understanding of facilitating innovation sessions, here’s how to run your innovation sessions online.  

Choose a Video Conferencing Platform

Yes, it has to be video. Replicating the face-to-face interaction of an in-person project is important for successful online ideation. While it won’t match the same experience 1:1 (nothing online will), the closer we can get, the more impact the project will have. Aside from reliability and security, there are two important factors to consider in choosing the right videoconferencing platform:

  1. Proper chat features
  2. Breakout rooms


As always, communication is key. People within the ideation should be able to easily share their thoughts and freely exchange ideas. A proper team chat can create a sense of teamwork and even be a fun way to engage with everyone. While you can have an outside application to communicate with everyone (like Microsoft Teams or Slack), keeping the essential tools as streamlined as possible will eliminate friction and free up time to generate ideas.

Breakout Rooms

Breakout rooms are a great way to change up the team dynamics. Having everyone together is important for kickoff, topline instructions, and regrouping—but when it comes to actually generating ideas, 10 or more people contributing can be chaotic. Breaking out into pairs or trios not only makes it easier for everyone to get their ideas out there, it also allows for the generation of more ideas, leading to higher-quality ideas. Plus, multiple shorter sessions help keep everyone's energy levels up, rather than one long, continuous meeting. 

Suggested Article: How to Run an Effective Meeting

I’m not going to review specific video conferencing platforms here (a simple Google search or this article is probably more reliable), but at Ideas To Go we use Zoom. Some helpful features that we use for online innovation are:

  • Host-controlled breakout rooms
  • Muting participants
  • File-sharing
  • Fun backgrounds for creative excursions
  • Chatroom
  • Meeting recordings and audio transcriptions

Kick Things Off

As with a normal innovation session, it’s important to set the groundwork for the day(s) ahead, align on the project objective, and set the desired output. Confusion derails any meeting—getting everyone on the same page sets the stage for a smooth session. The ideas that follow will move toward a common goal, ensuring quality and quantity.

After aligning on the purpose of the project, debriefing a pre-session assignment is always helpful. Doing pre-work gets people thinking about the objective even before entering the "room," allowing ideas to ruminate in the back of their mind over the days prior. Hearing what your colleagues think about the initiative up front can open up new perspectives, as well as spark unique ideas and possibilities that wouldn’t have otherwise come up.

Both aligning on the innovation purpose and debriefing the pre-session assignment should be done with the entire team on video. Participation is an essential component of reaching great ideas. Seeing everyone up front, rather than hiding off camera, commits them to the project. 

Divergence + Ideation

With the team warmed up, the next step is to generate as many possibilities in the time you have available. Given that most people are working from different locations, it’s helpful to think of creative excursions—short exercises that stretch thinking into new and unique territory—that utilize objects in everyone’s environment. It’s an engaging way to get people up and moving away from their computer, while keeping them thinking about innovation. For example, if your innovation objective is to fill a cookie brand’s pipeline, a great creative excursion is to have everyone bake something on camera. By immersing everyone in the topic, new stimulus enhances the ideas that are generated—plus it’s fun.

If possible, consider sending packages to each participant with creative supplies and stimulus inside. An unexpected delivery is a guaranteed mood-booster, and can go a long way toward making it feel like everyone is working together and sharing a common experience—even without being in the same location. Plus, it makes instructions easier when everyone has the same supplies, whether it's for a creative excursion, energizer, or other tool. 

Creative Corner

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Having a common space for people to enter new ideas is an essential part of the online innovation process. Not only will it help with organization—post-it notes are useless when everyone is in different locations—but each participant will be able to use other ideas as inspiration to build and optimize the ideas they see. It’s also great motivation to see all the unique ideas your team is generating as the day progresses. Ideas To Go uses our own e-deation® platform, an online tool designed from the ground up to supplement and enhance ideations, whether in-person or online. 

See The Best-in-Class  Collaborative Innovation Tool

Ideation is the perfect place to co-create with your consumers. While you can still get great ideas generating possibilities internally, incorporating the voice of your customer guarantees that each idea fills a consumer need or desire. It also gives you a chance to hear insights and wishes directly from the consumer, enriching the process and creating excitement around the ideas coming out of the session.

While videoconferencing accomplishes a lot, ideation is a great time to split the team up into subgroups using those Breakout Rooms mentioned above. Ideating as a team can be overwhelming and difficult to facilitate, especially online. Breaking the team down into pairs or trios allows for everyone’s input and room for more ideas (6 pairs working for 30 minutes will generate more ideas—and more diverse ideas—than 12 people working together in one team).

Convergence + Concept Development

Once you’ve focused enough time on diverging and generating lots of ideas, it is time to narrow those ideas down into actionable concepts. The format of the concepts is up to you, but it can include elements such as:

  • Working Name
  • Grounding Consumer Insight
  • Consumer Benefit
  • Product/Service Description
  • Artwork Direction
  • Internal Notes for Execution

It often feels overwhelming having to select only a handful of ideas to move forward from the 100+ ideas you just generated, but it’s necessary. Decisions need to be made, otherwise the ideation was pointless.

A simple voting process helps at this stage to see where the team has passion. Voting, coupled with individuals writing up their favorite ideas into concepts, initiates convergence and provides the starting point for the final concepts. All of this should be done individually, and can actually be done off video since it will take some time.

concept Corner

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Once everyone has voted and written their initial outlines, it’s time to hop back into the virtual meeting room. At this stage, it helps to have a smaller team—about 2-4 team members—to expedite the process. The job of the team is flesh out the outlines into a product you’re ready to move forward. This means converging on the current concept outlines—another voting process works here—and then fleshing the selected concepts out for consistency and quality. You can do this two ways: as a whole team with everyone contributing or splitting into two teams so that you can get through more concepts in the same amount of time. Either is fine, but it’s important to stay focused and keep everyone on track and moving toward the finish line. If you do split into smaller teams, make sure you save time at the end to go over the concepts each team did to make sure there is consistency between the teams.

Wrapping Things Up

Now that you have the prioritized concepts ready to go, it’s important to establish Next Steps so that the innovation project maintains momentum. A 15-30 minute discussion with everyone to decide who is responsible for what action, and when the action needs to happen, is a powerful way to ensure tasks get done after the online session. At this point, with everyone clear on what needs to happen next to ensure the final concepts move forward, the online ideation with the entire team can be wrapped up.

Get Seamless  Online Innovation

Using the right techniques during remote innovation should achieve actionable results with great concepts that your consumers love. Keeping in mind everything from above, here are a few tips that apply throughout each innovation step:

  • Remember to keep everyone engaged throughout the process and break people into smaller teams for a change of pace and increased contribution. Try to do energizers every few hours for a fun break and change of mindset.
  • Incorporate objects and items from everyone’s physical environment as stimulus to stretch thinking and reach new possibilities.
  • Be flexible with timing. Everyone's schedule is different, so breaking up the entire project into smaller parts can be beneficial to everyone involved. 
  • Make sure everyone has a direct contact line to the lead facilitator. While the group chat is great for engaging everyone, sometimes team members need to ask a direct question to the facilitator. This is also great for troubleshooting any technical issues that might arise.

Moving the entire process online isn’t always the ideal way to do innovation, but sometimes it’s necessary. Keeping the above tips and tricks in mind will get you a long way toward success. Now go forth and innovate—online. 

©2020 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tyler Thompson

Tyler Thompson is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator 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.