By Janice Francisco, CEO, Principal Innovation Consultant, Facilitator and Coach, BridgePoint Effect
The funny thing about ideas is that organizations seem obsessed about asking for ideas, yet little thought goes into how to develop innovative ideas.
Let's suppose this is the case in your organization. My bet is you're finding that the quality of ideas you're getting isn't up to snuff, and your solutions aren't hitting the mark. Read on to find out how to develop innovative ideas.
How to Develop Innovative Ideas
To answer the question "how to develop innovative ideas," let's be clear on what we mean by innovative ideas. Let's deconstruct the term.
"An idea is our imagination's way of responding to a gap. A gap might be created by a question that doesn't have an answer or a problem that doesn't have a solution. We bridge the gap by forming a new association or connection. That's an idea.
People often confuse ideas with solutions. A solution is an idea that has already undergone the process of being evaluated, refined, and developed, so you're very close to bringing it to the world. An idea, by contrast, is closer to the wellspring of imagination. In the overall process, it is closer to the initial insight – the 'aha' moment."
Now, what comes to mind when you hear the word innovative?
New, different, original?
And finally - what about when you hear the phrase "innovative ideas"?
Innovative ideas are new, different, original, and valuable in some way.
If ideas are truly innovative, they're likely to make you feel a little uncomfortable because they step outside the boundaries of what you're used to – they might even feel risky.
This cartoon brilliantly reflects what typically happens with ideas in organizations that focus on getting ideas without a deliberate process also to develop them. When ideas are quickly judged and dismissed, the opportunity to develop them is lost.
We teach people how to develop innovative ideas and how to run productive brainstorming sessions. When I describe the process of generating and developing ideas, I like to use the analogy that ideas are raw materials: they're like trees in a forest. If you're in the business of building wooden furniture, having an abundance of trees available to you is excellent. However, those trees aren't much good to you sitting in the forest. You need to get them through a manufacturing process to be able to use them. Similarly, raw ideas need to go through a development process before they can be useful in your business.
So, how do you develop innovative ideas?
Be Deliberately Creative
If you're wondering how to develop innovative ideas, the process starts with people engaging in creative thinking using a deliberately creative process and tools. They focus on resolving a specific problem challenge or opportunity that needs new thinking in an environment that encourages creativity.
Clarify the Challenge you're Tackling
I cringe when I hear of cross-organization ideation programs with no specific focus other than asking people for their ideas on a topic or a brainstorming meeting that does the same.
To develop innovative ideas, you need a focal point: a challenge, phrased as an open-ended question that allows people to focus on possibilities. And you need to give people:
- Some context around why you need to resolve the problem
- Background information on the "who, what, where, when, and how" detail associated with the problem, and
- An inkling of what you'd consider an ideal outcome and success criteria.
Use Creative Thinking Guidelines and Tools
Creative thinking is a two-step process of divergent thinking, followed by convergent thinking. It enables the symbiotic function of generating and developing ideas. Each step leverages specific rules meant to guide the process and create the psychological safety necessary to ensure the effort is productive. It deliberately separates the process of generating ideas from evaluating and developing them.
In the first step, divergent thinking is a broad search for many diverse and novel alternatives. It's about generating many options and capturing them all on uncensored lists. In this step of the process, it makes sense to get a diversity of people contributing ideas. The more, the merrier, so you get an excellent quantity of ideas.
There are four rules for divergent thinking. You can get them in the download below.
In the second step, convergent thinking is a focused and affirmative evaluation of ideas to screen, select, organize and refine novel alternatives.
There are five rules for convergent thinking. You can get them in the download below.
When it comes to generating and developing ideas, there are many tools you can use. It's best to choose tools based on your context and goals.
We teach Stick 'em Up Brainstorming and Forced Connections as standard, all-purpose go-to tools in our Innovation Toolset courses. Others such as SCAMPER, Brainwriting and Excursions, depending on your situation, can be helpful.
To evaluate your ideas, you'll need a written list of criteria to guide your convergent thinking step decisions. Think of criteria this way: what makes an idea good in your context?
To develop your ideas, consider using an evaluation matrix, a risk assessment tool, or any other tool that will guide you in finding the good in the more promising ideas and improving on them.
Make it Safe to Contribute Ideas
An environment that encourages creativity makes it safe for people to contribute their ideas without fear of negative consequences and provides the process and tools necessary to enhance and encourage creative thinking.
A research study conducted by Göran Ekvall, a Swedish organizational psychologist, provides excellent insight into the conditions necessary to foster creative behaviour and performance in an organization. While he identified ten specific requirements, four are particularly relevant to answering the question, "How to develop innovative ideas?"
Build Trust and Be Open
It takes courage to share ideas. And only when we feel there is psychological safety in doing so are we willing to take the risk. When people know and deliberately engage in productive norms for behaviour, like the Creative Thinking Guidelines outlined above, building emotional safety in relationships and trusting each other becomes possible.
In this environment, people know that all ideas are welcome, and there are transparency and openness around how ideas are evaluated and used. Communication is open and straightforward, and everyone learns to focus on what's possible in building ideas rather than tearing them down.
Give Ideas Time
Idea time is the amount of time people can, and do, use for elaborating new ideas. Think of it this way. As ideas emerge, possibilities exist to discuss and test impulses and new suggestions that were not planned for or included in the initial effort. Idea time occurs by setting aside specific times to generate and develop ideas and using periods of incubation to let ideas bubble up.
Give Ideas Support
People who are faced with criticism of their ideas simply stop telling people about them. Idea support is about being open to and accepting of ideas.
An environment that encourages creativity receives ideas and suggestions attentively and kindly. People engage in active listening and encourage ideas by focusing on possibilities, making connections to the broader context of their work, and addressing concerns as questions that encourage new and expanded thinking. The atmosphere is refreshing, constructive and positive.
Creativity thrives on a diversity of thinking. Debate is welcome in a creative environment when we make room for differing viewpoints, experiences, ideas, and knowledge. When it comes to developing innovative ideas, it's the convergent thinking phase where debates become essential. It's what makes it possible to think through and analyze alternatives as we work to improve options.
Debate in a creative climate isn't the kind of debate you experienced in your high school or college debate club where you argue for your point of view and do everything possible to discredit someone else's. It's a "yes, and…" process of accepting, appreciating, acknowledging and working with someone else's contribution so that you and the others involved can rise to a new level of understanding.
4 Steps to developing innovative ideas
To wrap up, a deliberate process and tools to support creative thinking aren't a "nice to have"; they're essential for developing innovative ideas.
Here's how to develop innovative ideas and avoid the common mistakes people make in brainstorming:
- Be deliberate
- Clarify the challenge you’re tackling
- Use creative thinking guidelines and tools
- Make it safe for people to contribute
Need help developing innovative ideas?
We provide tools and training so that you can collaborate to achieve more than you ever thought possible.
Here's our simple process:
- Schedule a consultation call
- We'll create and execute a customized strategy for your team.
- You'll see immediate results as you move forward with competence and confidence in your ideas.
1. So What's an Idea? Written by Sarah Thurber. Retrieved from https://blogs.foursightonline.com/so-whats-an-idea