Isn’t this backward? In many cases, it is, unless your objective is to generate innovative ideas to solve complex problems. Psychologist Dean Simonton, renowned for his study on creative productivity, demonstrates that creative individuals don’t consistently produce better ideas; they simply develop more ideas. As an example, Pablo Picasso’s body of work consists of over 20,000 creative endeavors. Yet, his notoriety is the result of just a small sub-set of this body of work.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that the first idea is rarely the best. It demonstrates that not every attempt at a solution will be successful. In order to generate innovative ideas, we will likely be more successful if we generate a volume of possibilities and then subsequently go back and analyze each generated idea. If there aren’t a few absurd options being thrown out, you are not doing this right. An idea that seems absurd on the surface could be part of the solution once it is revisited and refined.

If you are looking to generate solutions, I highly recommend the following:

  1. First and foremost, you must commit to spending the time required to complete the ideation process. This is not an hour-long meeting after a carb-loaded lunch.
  2. Invite a diverse group to the session. Simply including Managers and Directors in the room will severely limit visibility within the group. You should include Leads, Supervisors, and frontline workers. It can also be advantageous to bring in a representative from another department that routinely interacts with yours.
  3. Do not assess any idea until after all ideas have been gathered.
  4. Bring in a facilitator from outside your group. The best facilitator is one who is not overly familiar with the processes or dynamics of your team. Subject matter experts from within your department need not apply.
  5. Take the opportunity to let the individuals in the group spend some time working individually to generate ideas prior to posting them publicly. This encourages participation from the attendees who may be less likely to speak out verbally. Brainwalking, brainwriting, and brainmapping are great tools to help get the most out of the introverts in the room.

If you want generate a large number of ideas quickly, try Brain Mapping. To start, ask a high-level question. An example may be: “How can our department move closer to excellence?”, or “How can we better serve our patients?” Ask participants to start writing ideas on sticky notes. Be sure to instruct them to only include one idea per note. Give the group five to ten minutes to generate as many ideas as possible. Next, ask them to put their sticky notes on a piece of paper and pass that paper to another participant to their right.
Then, the participants will be asked to build on any of the ideas on the paper they were handed. They will also write these new ideas on a sticky note and add it to that same piece of paper. Again, allow another 5 to 10 minutes for this. After concluding the second round, you can either stop or continue on with another round of ideation.
After completing all the rounds, ask each participant to take all the sticky notes in front of them and stick them randomly on a large wall. Now, the facilitator will lead the participants in categorizing the ideas into groups. Once complete, the participants can begin analyzing and discussing the generated ideas. Generally, you will want to select five to six of the most impactful ideas to expand upon. Be sure to capture any of the ideas remaining that were still good, but didn’t make it into your top five or six.


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