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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0089 | February 25, 2003
6,200 Subscribers

picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.

From the Publisher: 

Hello MFJ Readers. 

This week's issue explores the practice of generating creative ideas within groups and organizations. Much of this material was drawn from a recent 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.

If you or your colleagues are interested in submitting an article for consideration, please email your ideas. I'd love to hear from you.

Steve Davis

Group Skill

Facilitating "Happy" Accidents
Using Seven Strategies to Generate Ideas.

The Point

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.


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 email us your comments.

World Future Society

The WORLD FUTURE SOCIETY is a nonprofit educational and scientific organization for people interested in how social and technological developments are shaping the future. By studying the future, people can better anticipate what lies ahead. More importantly, they can actively decide how they will live in the future, by making choices today and realizing the consequences of their decisions. The future doesn't just happen: People create it through their action -- or inaction -- today.

The Society strives to serve as a neutral clearinghouse for ideas about the future. Ideas about the future include forecasts, recommendations, and alternative scenarios. These ideas help people to anticipate what may happen in the next 5, 10, or more years ahead. When people can visualize a better future, then they can begin to create it.

Membership is open to anyone who would like to know more about what the future will hold. The Society includes 30,000 people in more than 80 countries--from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Visit their website at

cartoon image of a talking man.

Reader Survey 

What strategies do you use to inspire creativity in your groups? 

Please send your ideas, exercises, strategies, etc. to ../contact.html and I'll share with you all the inputs received. 

If you know someone who might benefit and enjoy this newsletter, please send this link to a friend.

About the Author
Steve Davis is a Facilitator's Coach helping leaders enhance their effectiveness through the application and perspective of facilitation. Please email or call me at 805-489-4130 to schedule a Free exploratory session, or to share your suggestions and ideas for the journal. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading!

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Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on March 4, 2003. 

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