Innovation is an art and science. Here’s how to help your team generate and prioritize the best ideas and opportunities in today’s virtual world.
Over the past 25 years, I have run hundreds of innovation sessions for high performing teams. My programs are often part of larger strategy and innovation initiatives. But they’re all focused on the same thing: generate, prioritize, and develop great ideas to create a big impact.
Over the past year I’ve had to perfect this process using online collaboration tools and processes. I’ve taken the best of what I’ve done in meeting rooms and innovation labs and replicated it in the virtual world. Better yet, it’s become clear that certain parts of the process are even better when done virtually, a counter-intuitive finding for many people who believe nothing can replace face-to-face collaboration.
Ideas aren’t innovations in themselves. Innovation happens when ideas are implemented and add real value for customers. The problem is that most brainstorming sessions stop with a big list of ideas. The most effective teams prioritize the best ideas and create action plans that move the most powerful opportunities forward. While this critical fact has always been true, it’s even more important in a virtual world, where accountability and focus can easily cease the moment people click “end meeting” and webcams turn off.
There are many collaborative tools out there for generating ideas. I’m not going to write them here. Why? Because successful brainstorms aren’t about technology at all. Sure, you need to have tools to list, theme, and prioritize ideas. Finding an online tool is the easy part. I like Mural for idea generation and Praxie for concept development and portfolio management. But “hard” stuff is actually the “soft” stuff — setting the right environment and tone that gives everyone the mindset, motivation, and focus to work together in new and creative ways online.
That said, here are the success factors:
1. Get focused.
In a single sentence, describe the challenge, problem, or topic of your brainstorm. Consider statements that start out like: “How can we …,” “What if we …,” and “How do we …”
2. Define opportunity categories
Identify categories for your ideas before you start. Place ideas into these categories as you go. Consider categories like: products, services, processes, business models, and customer experiences.
3. Create prioritization criteria
Once you have a bunch of ideas, get clear on the criteria you’ll use to prioritize. Share criteria and then vote on the best ideas using it. Consider criteria like:
- Feasibility (easy to hard)
- Impact (low to high)
- Customer Value (low to high)
- Return on Investment (low to high)
4. Confirm ground rules
Be sure everyone understands the norms for the brainstorm. Consider ground rules such as deferring judgment until it’s time to prioritize ideas, or aiming for quantity or creativity of ideas. Or you could ask that participants build on one another’s ideas when they’re shared.
5. Create implementation teams
After you generate and select your top ideas, choose a pair-team to “own” the implementation of them. Pairing people up creates a sense of shared accountability and commitment. Set a timeline and due date for results. Provide support along the way through regular check-ins.
Ideas themselves are a dime a dozen. Ideas that get implemented are worth their weight in gold. That fact doesn’t change in a virtual world.
About the Author
Soren Kaplan is the bestselling and award winning author of Leapfrogging and The Invisible Advantage, an Affiliate at the Center for Effective Organizations at USC’s Marshall School of Business, a columnist for Inc. Magazine, a globally recognized keynote speaker, and the Founder of Praxie. Business Insider and the Thinkers50 have named him one of the world’s top management thought leaders and consultants.