Tag Archives: creative workshops

3 of My Favourite Idea Generation Techniques

Here’s 3 foolproof creative exercises you can turn to when you’re looking to inject a bit more lateral thinking into your workshop and kick-start some new ideas

1. Random Words

One of the simplest and most most effective techniques. This is how it works.

1. Pick out a random word from a bag. I tend to use those magnetic words you can buy to create poems for fridges

2. Write down all the associations you have with that word

3 Use these associations to generate some new ideas i.e. they become the springboard for some lateral leaps

It works because of it’s random nature – it stimulates your mind in new and interesting ways. It’s also really quick to do and can take you into some new and unpredictable directions.


2. Rule Breaking

If you’re looking for radical / breakthrough ideas, then this is a great technique to use

1. Write down all the beliefs / assumptions / conventions that surround the problem you’ve been dealing

2. Come up with some new ideas that break or challenge these ‘rules’

It’s great because it’s really simple to do, uses no props and encourages people to generate some challenging ideas. It can also be quite amusing and liberating as people often generate ludicrous, outrageous or immoral ideas – which can often act as a bridge to a truly great idea.

3. Corporate Takeover

This is a very ‘safe’ exercise to undertake in that everyone finds it easy to do, even if they’re unfamiliar with creative workshops and you always get some great ideas. This is how it works.

1. In teams ask people to select a brand they admire. Alternatively, you could simply allocate the team an interesting brand that you’ve pre-selected

2. Ask people to bring the brand to life – what it’s famous for, it’s values, it’s personality, etc

3. Finally imagine that your company has been taken over by this brand. How would they solve the problem / come up with new ideas

It’s great because there is quite a short lateral leap required to come up with new ideas, people love talking about other brands and it helps release them from their own corporate shackles

There are many more idea generation techniques I could talk about, but when I’m facilitating creative workshops, I often use at least one of these. Why not give them a go!

Structuring a Creative Workshop: Key Principles

This is the scenario. You’ve been asked to facilitate a creative workshop. You’re clear on the task and the output you’re looking for, so how do you create a session plan? Here are the key principles you should follow

1. Spend equal amounts of time on divergent and convergent thinking

Divergent thinking is about generating new ideas – the classic brainstorming phase, whereby new thoughts are generated and captured. Convergent thinking is about colliding ideas, selecting the lead ideas and working them up in more detail. Both phases are equally important so you need equal time on both.

If you’ve got a 1 day session, spend the morning on the divergent thinking and the afternoon on convergent thinking. If it’s a 2 hour session spend the first hour on divergent thinking, the second hour on convergent thinking. Simply divide the time you have available in two.

2. Always start with an individual sharing session

Often in creative sessions, the high energy extroverts take centre stage. This is great because their energy is important and they’re often full of great ideas. However, we need everyone’s ideas. Beware of neglecting the more introvert attendees or the more reflective types. They need to be given their own time and space in order to ensure (a) we don’t neglect their valuable input (b) to make sure they feel included and more willing to participate. Therefore, ensure they get given the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas early in session.

3. Never undertake more than 3 creative exercises

After the initial download, the next phase is to undertake a series of exercises in smaller groups using a series of creative techniques to encourage people to generate new, fresh ideas. I’ve found that you should plan on undertaking a maximum of 3 exercises. Beyond this, either the quality / volume of ideas diminishes or else ideas start to become repetitive. I think it’s because

– people have only so many ideas within them to give in a workshop scenario – no matter how creative they are

– after 3 creative exercises, people have had enough – creative exercises can be quite challenging and their brains get too frazzled

4. Make sure each creative exercise is very different

There are many creative techniques to choose from to help you come up with new ideas. This is when you spend a lot of your planning time in thinking about the most appropriate technique to apply to the task. Make sure that each technique is very different because

(a) you need to attack the problem from all kinds of perspectives

(b) you need to keep the session engaging and interesting

(c) you need to push the attendees as hard as you can and challenge them to come up with new ideas

5. Plan for several, shorter breaks

In most conventional 1 day workshops, you tend to have a break in the morning and a break in the afternoon. However, I find that in creative sessions, people need more frequent time-outs. This could be for only 5 or 10 minutes maximum to just clear their heads, grab a coffee or get some fresh air. Plan for 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon and in between, work intensively. Never, ever attempt the ‘working lunch’. You either eat or work. You can’t do both!

6. Have a contingency plan

Timings will inevitably shift – despite your best efforts, so make sure you allow for this. If you get through the creative exercises early, have an extra creative exercise up your sleeve. If they go on a bit longer, be aware of which one you’re prepared to drop. And finally, give time back rather than take more. People are delighted if you decide to finish a session early. They’ll hate you if you keep them late.

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.