Facilitating Idea Generation Workshops. My 3 Big Learnings

Typically this what happens. You gather some people together, book out a day, get out the post-its and generate idea ideas with the help of a few tried and trusted creative techniques. This is fine and we’ll continue to do this. However, there are better ways.

1. Generate the Ideas Before You Get to the Workshop

Ideas never come out fully formed. They come to you at odd times, they mutate, they grow. You need time and space for the idea to emerge. Sitting down in a workshop is not always the best idea generation environment. Time pressure and working in teams with people you don’t know very well doesn’t always put you in a good creative zone.

The alternative way is to
(a) select a broad range of people and give them the idea generation brief at least 2 weeks before the workshop – ideally 4
(b) encourage them to generate ideas in whatever way they want, but make sure they use a consistent format
(c) ask them to send you the ideas before the workshop

This assumes that the people you ask are motivated and engaged enough to generate ideas in the first place. Paying them usually helps. Select a large, diverse group of people. Some may have little experience of knowledge of the category, some may be real experts. Students, consumers, technical folk, it doesn’t matter. As long they have bendy, creative brains then that’s fine. Also, not all the people who generate ideas in advance need to come to the workshop


2. Focus the Workshop Itself on Spotting and Sculpting the Lead Ideas

Display the ideas you’re received on the walls as if you’re in an art gallery. It’s a great feeling walking into a room full of ideas. You feel relaxed and confident that you’re going to fulfil your goals as you’re not forced to generate ideas from scratch. Some people are great ‘spotters’ i.e. they’re brilliant at seeing the great idea or connecting a couple of ideas together. Often, this is when the brand team comes into it’s own as their intuition and experience is a real asset.

Sculpting is about building the idea and telling the story around them. For this, having visualisers working with you is essential as well as people who can write succinctly and capture the essence of an idea.

3. Continue Sculpting the Idea Immediately After the Workshop

Often, ideas are taken away and written up in their raw format a few days after. Don’t do this! You’ll forget what the ideas are about, lose them and you won’t be able to read half of them.

Instead, a core team (3 or 4) should stay behind and select the ‘big ideas’. This could be in the afternoon of the workshop or the next day. Don’t leave it any longer. This may involve lots of debate and discussion, so you need to involve the key people. Then focus your energy on knocking them into shape there and then. Work with a visualiser, start to craft the words and keep on evolving the ideas.

Of course, in reality these steps might not be possible if it requires the time and resource you don’t have. However, if ever I get asked to plan and facilitate an idea generation workshop this is what I recommend. I’ve tried it a number of times and it really works.


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