Master Facilitator Journal

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0402, July 21, 2009

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This week's issue explores the practice of generating creative ideas within groups and organizations. Much of this material was drawn from a past article in the Futurist Magazine entitled, "7 Strategies for Generating Ideas." This article summarizes the results of a team of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York who spent time observing radical innovation projects in companies such as IBM, GE, GM and DuPont.

They also found that most of their ideas came from "happy accidents" rather than from some ongoing process to generate ideas. They found that the vanguards of innovation are paying much more attention to the "fuzzy front end" of innovation where possibilities first come to light, and use seven strategies to increase throughput of significant ideas.

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The Point

Facilitating "Happy" Accidents
Seven Strategies to generate creative ideas

Group Dynamics Skill

A team of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic University from New York, in their study of radical innovation projects, found that " most companies today, the "practice" of innovation can be likened to the mating of pandas: infrequent, clumsy, and often ineffective. It's practice is largely unchanged from 20 years ago. While the world has changed drastically and organizations pride themselves for having a process for everything, the process of innovation remains ad hoc, unsystematic, piecemeal, seat of the pants, and heavily dependent on luck."

This team found that the creative breakthroughs that visit most companies came from "happy accidents" rather than from some ongoing process to innovation. They found that the vanguards of innovation are paying much more attention to the "fuzzy front end" of innovation where possibilities first come to light, and the seven strategies they are using to increase throughput of significant ideas.


7 Strategies for Generating Ideas...

1. Invite Everyone in the quest for ideas. Organizations can enlarge their pool of ideas by including more employees in the process. Start by encouraging them to listen to customers. Don't allow managers, technical specialists, or purchasing, finance, or human resource professionals to participate in new product, services, or market development decisions unless they spend at least 20% of their time with current (or future) customers and suppliers.

2. Involve customers in your process. The traditional focus group needs more focus. Form advisory boards of key customers to serve as sounding boards for ideas. Identify customers who tend to buy the latest versions of your products. These "lead adopters" can provide you with insights about where the market may be headed and how your organization can best position itself.

3. Involve customers in new ways. Look outside of your own field or industry for ideas on how to get customer input. Automakers, retailers, and consumer electronics manufacturers, for instance, are on the leading edge of customer surveying and are often considered the early adopters of ideational techniques.

4. Focus on the unarticulated needs of customers. Learn from customers by observing what they are not doing, listening to what they are not saying. Recognize the sources of their frustration and find potential ways of eliminating it.

5. Seek ideas from new customer groups. Look at your customers' customers and your competitors' customers. Instead of looking at only the present, look also at the past (former customers) and the future (anyone you haven't done business with yet). Ask how you might meet those customer's needs.

6. Involve suppliers in product ideation. Just as you look at your customers for new ideas (such as by detecting their unarticulated needs), think of your organization as your suppliers' customer. You, too, have unarticulated needs. Try articulating them and get your suppliers' idea-generating capacity working in concert with yours. Ask them to be creative on your behalf. This is a win for you and for them.

7. Benchmark ideation methods. Organization that rely on innovation need to seriously examine the climate in which ideation takes place and put someone in charge of making the process better, more productive, and more innovative. Innovation-adept firms invest in ideation sessions, read books, attend seminars, and constantly seek to improve their skills.

Source: Adapted from the article 7 Strategies for Generating Ideas from the March 1, 2003 issue of the Futurist Magazine.


How can you use one or more of these strategies to support yourself or your clients? Do these strategies give you any ideas for your own business? Please share your thoughts and experiences with me by replying to this email.

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