Area of Focus for Workshop Groups

Preparing for Your Workshop

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The ideas you generate in your workshop are only ever going to be as good as the people in the group. I want people of different ages, races, education levels, economic statuses, and beliefs to come up with an area of focus. Theoretically, I want twenty-three-year-old inner-city scholarship kids sitting next to corn-fed engineers three times their age, senior management next to designers and enthusiastic interns and so on.

Area of Focus

Big ideas are born out of being surprised and out of your knowledge colliding with a new bit of information. This won’t happen if you all “know” the same things. Get participants from as many areas of your organization as possible, and keep the doors open to all comers as much as is feasible. At the same time, you need to find people who will actively and eagerly participate. Some people have the right credentials but don’t contribute to the group, so you as the leader need to understand the dynamics of each person. I track how effective people have been in previous workshops. If they are active, dynamic, and great contributors (building on others’ ideas), they get invited back. If they are lumps on a log or overly critical of others’ ideas, they don’t.

Area of Focus and Killer Questions

Some group organizers have an immediate area they know they need to focus in on. Their organization may be losing customers and need to find ways to either reengage with their existing demographic, or find ways to make new customers. They may realize their product needs to evolve, or that their way of doing business is growing obsolete. However, if you don’t know where to focus, you should either use the assumption questions to help you zoom in on one, or simply pick among the Who, What, or How categories.

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Once you’ve homed in on your area of focus, turn to the lists of Killer Questions, and select one to three questions from the appropriate list. Remember, you’re looking for questions that you can’t currently answer, or even guess an answer to. If you look at a Killer Question and think, “I know the answer to that,” then your group participants may well have the same reaction, and you won’t get the level of new insight you need.

Don’t be afraid to rewrite the questions. Over the years I’ve found that the wording on the questions is critically important. Be specific about where the question is being aimed, especially if you are going after an area that is a touchy or difficult subject for your organization. Use language your teams will understand, but at the same time watch out for words that are overly familiar and loaded with meaning. Words have unique connotations at different organizations, and if you don’t understand the nuances of how those words are understood, you may cause people to assume you are asking a much narrower question than you really are.

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Bear in mind that the questions in this book use the word “product,” but the questions can be used for “services,” “solutions,” etc. Use whatever word works for your organization. The word “product” is widely assumed to mean hardware at HP, and if I ask a Killer Question related to product, people will assume I’m talking very specifically about hardware. If I’m looking for a broader set of ideas, I will use the word “solution.” Be careful of words that have evolved to mean something beyond their dictionary definition in your organization, or come weighted with baggage. Changing a familiar word to a less-expected one may be an easy way to give you a radically different response.

Give your group the area of focus and the Killer Questions two weeks before the date of the workshop. Make sure that your participants understand that they have homework, and that they are expected to show up to the workshop prepared. They need to get out and observe. One important note: it’s essential to start the process in a very focused way, however you should still have a plan for addressing ideas that don’t fit into your chosen area of focus. For instance, a group member may make a fantastic observation about how you are manufacturing your product while investigating who the customer is. If that happens, don’t ignore it. Add it to the list of ideas to be considered at a later date. There are no limits to where ideas can come from.

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