Each FEI cycle should have:
The duties can rotate, but for every cycle they must squarely be the responsibility of designated people.
The cycle can run more smoothly with the support of an Idea Management System (IMS). If you’re working without one, the data maven will need to organize an email address and spreadsheet to collect and cluster ideas.
The cycle consists of six stages. What we think of “brainstorming” is only one part of it. And crucially the first meeting is devoted to generating questions more than ideas. Generating interesting questions, to be answered by your idea generation resource group is probably the secret ingredient to excellence in the front-end process.
Coming up with better, more focused questions to pose to your ideation resource group can be done by doing some combination of these things:
This risk (which we see often) is that teams default to obvious questions.
For example a mobile phone company might think this is a valid question for ideation: In what ways might we make our product more appealing to young adults?
The mobile phone company has learned through market research that young people ages 18 to 24 buy frequently and are a large market segment. If you were to conduct idea generation with that question, however, you would probably end up with ideas that add features to the existing phone line. Implemented, those feature/functions would tend to compete with similar features and functions other vendors thought of independently. So, no breakthroughs are likely to come from such a question. However, with a bit more imagination and stimulus, you might arrive at a question like:
In what ways might we make our mobile phone like a game?
The stimulus for this question is the observation of young adults playing games on their phone when not using it for calls or texting. It’s a very different question and it would lead to a very different set of ideas. We’re not saying this is the “right” question; we’re saying this is a different question.
The goal in Step 1 is to:
The ideas your cycle generates will be answers to the one question you select. So it’s important to choose a question that can elicit breakthrough ideas.
In this phase of work, you’ll want a small number (2-3) of diverse thinkers to look at the questions generated in Step One in relation to the cycle’s criteria.
The small group is reviewing the questions, and ranking them in terms of:
Ideas are replies to the chosen platform question.
Thinking up ideas takes time. That’s why virtual ideation is so important. Virtual ideation is the process of a group jamming ideas in response to a question, working alone or together. It works because it allows each mind to incubate responses to the question.
We recommend a two- to four-week interval when the question is live and people, as part of their day-to-day work, can offer answers, as they generate them.
Here are essential ingredients to make the Virtual Ideation effective:
1) Enroll people ahead of time, so people know what is happening and what’s expected of them before the virtual ideation interval starts
2) Set clear expectations, e.g. 30 ideas per participant
3) Set a clear start time/date and end time/date.
4) Keep facilitating participation throughout the period. Give them the nudging, the guidance and the incentives they need to participate fully and effectively.
Here’s a virtual ideation enjoyed by one ideator.
As you can see, he’s thinking all the day, whatever place he’s in. That’s how creativity happens, so it’s a good idea to organise your idea generation to work with creative style, not against it.
Optional but highly recommended:
5) Open up your virtual ideation and include trusted outsiders. The outsiders might be suppliers who have goodwill to your business (and are trustworthy) and also professional “trained brains” who can set a pace your people then strive to match.
6) Hire an Idea Management System (IMS) if email and spreadsheets get too clunky.
Clustering ideas helps you take all the input from all the creative thinkers and begin processing it. The goal in this step is to arrive at a small subset of ideas – say 20-30 that are the best, most interesting.
When your creative minds are leaping off in any direction, they are diverging. When your focus is on clustering ideas and filtering them, your thinking is converging.
The process for clustering ideas, filtering them according to criteria and eventually selecting a few ideas is called Idea Convergence.
Criteria for idea convergence can vary. Sample criteria are:
Now is the time to take the 20-30 ideas and elaborate as concepts. When you meet, you may also decide to jam some more ideas in a traditional idea generation session.
It often makes sense to get people out of the office for the session. Always, even if you remain in your office, emphasize that cell phones and email checking are not welcome except during breaks.
The flow of work in the session is:
Depending on time, the goal is to have full concepts for a subset of the ideas. Working from this subset, the group should then select from those which 5-6 concepts to develop as a story.
A story describes meaningful change to a person or group. So the basic story ingredients are descriptions of:
Presenting a concept story invokes the imagination and this is important because leaders need to see ‘the vision’ of the future an implemented idea holds.
Falling back on dry presentation habits like business cases does your group’s creative thinking – and your boss’s listening – a disservice.
If management says, YES, any approved concepts are then handed off to the development team and the concepts enter the more traditional stage-gate development steps.
Presenting to management is important for several reasons:
Now, and this is key, don’t wait until your products have gone to market before you start in at Step One again. Plan another cycle to begin after a short break — and do this all again.
A more continuous, faster, front-end of innovation cycle is key to a full, robust pipeline and regular new market entries.
By Gregg Fraley, Kate Hammer & Indy Neogy
In large or complex organizations, starting or ramping up innovation can be a real challenge. For concrete ideas on how to create momentum for innovation projects, tune into this interactive IM Channel One Ask the Expert Q&A webcast. On October 4th, IM Channel One invites two experts from KILN’s cauldron to discuss aspects of innovation program momentum, from leveraging the creative talent of your people, through to winning management’s buy-in. The conversation will be driven to answer your questions.
Gregg Fraley is a serial entrepreneur and international expert in creative problem solving. Author of Jack’s Notebook, he advises Fortune 500 corporations and speaks internationally on themes relating to company innovation and commercial creativity. As board member for the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) in the USA from 2003-2007 when he moved to Britain, Gregg trained scores of professionals in Creative Problem Solving (CPS) using the Osborn-Parnes model. He continues this work through KILN, a firm he co-founded in 2010 with….
Kate Hammer PhD is a commercial storyteller. She catalyses innovation in companies of all sizes, stokes people’s courage to attempt what is unfamiliar, and crafts stories that change what people choose. In 2012, culture anthropologist Grant McCracken dubbed Kate an honorary Chief Culture Officer. She is a Fellow of the RSA in London.
Indy Neogy is an expert in culture, both anthropological and organizational. He earned an MBA from Leeds after studying rocket science at MIT. His book When Culture Matters: A 55-Minute Guide to Better Cross Cultural Communication has just been published. Like Kate, Indy also has been named honorary Chief Culture Officer, and is an RSA Fellow.