Ideas? Don’t give up on them

Sharing Homework Observations

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Once everyone is settled into the meeting, it’s time to share what you’ve discovered.  I generally give a quick recap of our area of focus, not about the ideas yet. I start off by asking the participants to share their own list of the assumptions and rules that define how the industry and organization operates.


I find it’s important to acknowledge them, and get them out on the table. By doing this we can free up the workshop to focus on the ideas that we came to discuss. Then I’ll ask the participants about their experience and to share what they observed. Don’t go in a circle! I always ask who wants to talk first, and after that I’ll look for facial expressions. Is there someone who’s excited to share because their observations naturally build on the one we’ve just heard? Keep the sharing quick and focused; don’t let them get lost in the weeds.

Each person talks about what they’ve observed. If they’ve collected images, video, or physical artifacts they should share them at this point. I prefer these artifacts to be physical instead of digital, so print them out and either pin them on the walls or pass them around. Don’t fall back on PowerPoint. The more physical the artifacts, the more they will inspire the group as they think of ideas.

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This is not about generating ideas yet; it is simply about sharing what they have observed. Remember that the answers to the questions are not themselves ideas. They are the input for what you are going to use to generate ideas.

Ideas and Ideation

Once everyone has shared their input, we move to ideation. Start by assigning an idea quota. Now, you’re not grading them on the quality of the ideas. Right now we are simply looking for quantity.

Keep the energy high and don’t let their minds wander and procrastinate before they are done. Keep the momentum going. Give yourself twenty minutes to write down thirty ideas related to what was shared during the homework portion of the group.

The ideation stage is freeform. Have the team write down every idea that comes to them, without thinking about its value or practicality. I like using Post-it notes for this exercise so that the ideas are easy to share on a whiteboard or flip chart.

Don’t be critical of ideas at this stage of the process. I’m a firm believer in the concept I call “stupid wins.” It’s natural not to want to look stupid by proposing a stupid idea, one that seems too dumb to work or to bother investigating. Yet brilliance is often deceptively simple, and by discarding ideas that seem too simple you are putting yourself at a disadvantage. Why? Because your competitors most likely are throwing away the same “stupid” ideas. Their bias—like yours—is causing them to reject ideas and miss the same opportunities you are. So force yourself to look beyond the bias, and don’t give up on the stupid ideas.

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If you get stuck, try looking at the ideas you’ve already generated and see if any of them can be broken down into smaller components. Try the weird, random combination route; see if you can combine two ideas you’ve already come up with into a third one. Combine ideas with the person sitting next to you. If you have a good idea, write the opposite of it down. Does the opposite have value? For instance, in a recent education workshop a participant suggested letting kids use their smart phones during class for educational purposes. If you were stuck, you might ask what would happen if you did the opposite and removed all electronic, computer, and communication devices from the classroom.

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