Welcome to the Innovation Front End. I'm Don Ross and this is my blog that focuses on how companies can do a better job during the early phases of the innovation process. Companies that are the best at driving organic growth through innovation in products, services or technologies have a dedicated front end process in place. The following entries capture some of the best ideas, theory, and practice of the Innovation Front End. "

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ideation tip #1 - “How to” turn negative thinking into positive energy

I was at a local PDMA meeting the other night to hear a presentation comparing online ideation to traditional in-person ideation. Most innovation practitioners recognize that online ideation is a compromise. It loses the important socialization that drives ideation success, but it can be an incredible cost-saving tool. Just think about how much it costs to have eight people in a room together for a two-day concept development session. You fly team members in from maybe 4 cities and 2 countries, plus pay hotel bills, car rentals and all the rest.

So while I wouldn't argue the economics, I did take issue with the speaker’s second point, which was that you don't have to worry about someone disrupting your online ideation session with comments like, “that will never work here,” or generally being negative and sapping the energy out of the group.

Sorry, I don’t think that's a good enough reason to use online ideation. Basic facilitation skills and sound creative team process should take care of the team disrupters.

So how do you handle the negative thinker or disruptor during ideation?

Ideation is essentially creative team problem-solving, which is a social process. It’s about people with different backgrounds and experiences coming together to focus on a problem and create solutions. A good facilitator helps the team by managing the process and establishing the climate for optimum team effectiveness. Part of that is in the planning of the session and part of it takes place during the session itself.

The facilitator works with the team leader before the session to make sure the invited team members bring diversity in thought and are prepared to lend their minds to the team task for the duration of the session. The facilitator provides structure for the session and various creative tools and problem-solving approaches to keep the group on task and productive.

The facilitator establishes the “climate,” which is the collective feeling of the ideation session. He or she keeps the team members open-minded, positively charged, fully engaged and working toward a shared goal. Disruptive team members are encouraged--with diplomacy and skill--to turn their negative thinking around into positive energy for the team.

Most ideation disruptors are not disrupting because they are jerks.

They disrupt because they have a real concern about something and just don’t have the skills or training to deal with it in a positive manner. There’s something important behind the disruptive outburst. We want to know about the disrupter's concerns so we can address them and make the idea or concept more feasible.

Sometimes it’s as simple as helping the disruptor reframe a concern using positive, action-oriented language. For example, when the disruptor blurts out, “That’s a dumb idea, management would never accept it,” have them restate their concern without the value judgment, as a “how to” problem statement begging for a solution. “My concern with that idea is “how to” make it more acceptable to management.” That sets the team up for a round of creative problem-solving on how to gain management buy-in.

The essence of ideation and creative team problem-solving is first defining the problems, then finding the “how tos” that make the problems go away. When we come up with an idea, we need the concerns to surface. We just need to handle the concerns in a positive, action-oriented way that moves the idea forward and makes it a stronger solution.

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