In my previous post about brainstorms, (which to avoid confusion, we’ll call idea-generation or ideation sessions) I discussed the role of negative thinking and criticism in them. I did so because of the recent attention paid to Jonah Lehrer, who in his book “Imagine, How Creativity Works,” seemed to claim that these sessions didn’t work, due to their lack of negative, critical thinking. And I disagreed.
First, it’s essential to divide your session into separate ideation and selection sections. During ideation, criticism, whether explicit or implicit, is banned because it interferes with creativity.
Once you’ve gotten all your ideas (some will be pretty well developed, others mere idea “nuggets”) it’s time to use critical thinking (which is different from being critical) to determine the ones you’re going to turn into a program.
You need a system that allows the group to help select the best ideas, with the problem holder having the ultimate decision. I like to give each participant five adhesive green dots and five red ones. They place their green dots next to those ideas (on the large “group memory” sheets hanging on the walls of the conference room) they consider “Best”: The most practical ideas that the problem holder can turn into an effective program, perhaps with the help of his/her account team, but without the ideation group’s help.
The participants place red dots next to those ideas they consider “Most Intriguing”, those that might rank a 70 (on a scale of 1 to 100) in their current state. They’re not ready to be presented to a client. In fact, they may be nowhere near a true program idea at this point. But there’s something in them worth saving, exploring, and expanding. These are the ideas that often lead to the most innovative PR programming, but they often sit unexplored, unless we have a process to develop them. These are the ones that together the group will improve, with the goal of making them worthy of a score of 85 or 90.
Depending on how many session participants you have, there may be many ideas that get many red dots. The number of ideas that the group will work together to improve depends on 1) How much time you’ve allocated for the selection portion of the session; and 2) The problem-holder’s view of which ideas require the group’s input.
It’s important to start on a positive note, so for each idea selected, the facilitator will ask group members to state what they like about the idea.
Now we start the work that will take the innovative idea(s) from “Most Innovative” to “Best”.
This might appear to be the time when those who live to be critical will get a chance to do so. But we’re going to use a technique to get the best of their critical thinking, which is good, while removing any negativity which would actually prevent idea improvement.
The facilitator doesn’t ask “What’s wrong with this idea?”, but “How can we improve this idea?” and requires that the participant start with the words “how can we…”
So rather than being allowed to damn the idea by saying “This idea is too expensive” the participant might ask “How can we get the client to fund a program of this scale?” or “How can we add an engagement element, so that we can tap the client’s social media budget?” or “How can we test this idea in a handful of representative markets?”
Rather than being allowed to say “the national media would never cover that,” a critical thinker now must say “What additional angles must we add to assure that the national media would be interested?” Rather than say “That idea appeals to women, but men would be turned off,” they ask “How can we assure that men would get as involved in this effort as women?”
By simply changing the words, critiquers become builders, the group is challenged to provide solutions, and once again goes into ideation phase.
Using this methodology in the idea selection part of the session offers five formidable advantages, because we are:
- Saving great ideas that otherwise might be killed;
- Giving clients not only the obvious ideas, but the most innovative ones, and not just idea snippets, but fully thought-out campaigns;
- Tapping into the critical thinking of those participants who bring this skill which, to Lehrer’s point, is needed;
- Doing so in a non-negative way that encourages, rather than discourages, session participants;
- Maximizes the think-power of the group we’ve assembled, in a way that generates the best programming for our clients. And isn’t that the reason for idea-generation sessions?
Do you agree that you get the best results when you separate ideation from selection? What techniques do you use to select the best ideas during ideation sessions?