How to generate innovative ideas in the workplace

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The New Year is upon us and most people have made their list of resolutions they intend to tackle in 2019. Whether it’s losing weight, exercising, saving money or perhaps, even finding love, it’s hard to make those good intentions stick for the long-term. Before you know it, it’s July and you can’t even remember what you wanted to accomplish by the end of the year.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It just means to start small, take baby steps and understand that resolving to do something huge can’t happen overnight. The same is true when working to improve your workflow or trying to bring new ideas to the table for your company.

Innovation in any industry takes a while to develop. You have to learn how to think differently, challenge the rules, collaborate with diverse groups of people, recognize that failure can lead to success and be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

While it takes time to build a culture of innovation, it doesn’t mean you and your team can’t learn how to quickly come up with a variety of unconstrained ideas to solve a problem. Here are some brainstorming tips for you or your company to learn how to generate ideas and solutions to ongoing problems.

Brainstorming techniques that work

  1. When scheduling a brainstorming meeting, be sure to include a brief explanation of the problem and its history. This will help participants mentally prepare for the session and focus on the particular issue. The more specific and focused a gathering is, the better the results will be.
  2. When inviting individuals to a brainstorming event, consider people with different backgrounds and degrees of expertise. Sometimes a fresh outlook comes from someone who isn’t considered an expert or close to the problem. It’s also important to set clear guidelines to ensure all titles are left at the door.
  3. Distribute rules for brainstorming
    1. Do:
      1. Understand the exact issue, topic or operational area that is being focused on
      2. Allow individuals to complete their thoughts
      3. Build on existing ideas
      4. Be brief when stating an idea
      5. Organize, categorize and evaluate only after the session is completed
      6. Strive for quality
    2. Don’t:
      1. Allow idea assassins
      2. Make judgments, verbal or visual, as ideas are being offered
      3. Paraphrase an individual’s ideas when scribing
      4. Dominate the session
  4. Brainstorming meetings can be tiring and if you haven’t discovered a satisfactory idea after 40 minutes, it’s best to organize alike ideas and adjourn the gathering. Let the participants leave with the understanding that there will be another session. They can think about the problem further because great ideas can come anytime and anywhere—in the shower, car or in the park!
  5. At the beginning of the session, explain that “killer phrases” such as “it can’t be done” or “we don’t have the budget for that” won’t be tolerated. Provide two cards for each participant as they enter the room. One has a green circle on it, the other a red circle. When the flow of ideas is positive, participants hold up the green cards. If someone mentions a “killer phrase”, all of the other participants must hold up the red cards. This helps the group identify its “killer” behavior and lets participants know when they should be more supportive of others’ input.
  6. If more than ten participants have been invited to the session, break the group into teams of five or six people, and have each brainstorm the issues. Smaller teams remove some of the formality and make people more at ease. Feeling comfortable means sharing more ideas!
  7. Write the objective of the meeting where everyone in the room can see it. You want to be clear that they understand the “why” of what they are brainstorming around and why it’s important to do that. For example, “How can we better understand the needs of our customers?” or “What can be done to improve the quality of this product?”
  8. Be sure to capture all of the group’s ideas. An interactive whiteboard is ideal for brainstorming since ideas are displayed on the whiteboard surface (which can stimulate additional ideas) and can be easily edited and saved to a computer file. Whichever tool you use to record your ideas, be sure that they’re saved for future reference. After all, what good is generating ideas if nobody remembers them after the session ends?
  9. You need to have people facilitate the meeting. If the flow of ideas begins to fizzle then the leader should step in. Re-read every third idea. This may spark additional thoughts. Ask a participant to select a concept and give reasons why they like it. This will generate conversation around the approach and provide an opportunity to build on it. If you’re the session leader, keep an idea or two to yourself. When the conversation dies, share them to initiate more discussion.

Get those creative juices flowing!

Activity time! Here are some tried and true exercises to build an arsenal of innovative ideas.

  1. Silent brainstorming
    1. Each participant documents ideas on post-it notes
    2. Facilitator collects post-it notes and places them on flip-chart
    3. Ideas are grouped together around centralized themes
    4. Facilitator presents ideas and themes to group for discussion
  2. Mindmapping
    1. Brainstorming topic is documented in the middle of a paper/flip-chart
    2. Group documents ideas and branches off into new centralized ideas
    3. Group discussion occurs after all ideas are captured
    4. Each branch/idea can lead to further discussion and questions to MindMap
  3. Pass the paper
    1. Topic/Question is documented at the top of a page
    2. Draw three squares below the topic – first team member will document their idea in the first box
    3. The second team member will either expand upon that idea and write in the next square or will start a new line with a new idea
    4. Continue in this fashion until each team member has passed twice and all ideas are exhausted
    5. Facilitate group discussion around all idea strings
  4. Pictures only
    1. Topic is presented to the group
    2. Participants use drawings and pictures to capture ideas
    3. There are little to no written words
    4. Each participant discusses their pictures or drawing
  5. Yes, and…
    1. Facilitator presents topic of discussion
    2. First participant begins with one idea
    3. Second participant expands on that idea by saying, “Yes, and…”
    4. One person documents as each participant expands on the previous one’s with a “Yes, and…” statement.

What’s the benefit?

Many companies and teams have their own ways of coming up with their own ideas to issues they may have. However, I believe having a variety of techniques on-hand ensures you are providing the most fruitful brainstorming activity possible.

Brainstorming is good for any company that has a situation where they need to think outside the box on different ways of doing something. It allows for employees to contribute to process improvements and provides a safe avenue to freely give ideas, even if they seem crazy.

In 2019, use these techniques to slowly introduce innovation into your workplace.

Last Updated: December 20, 2019

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About Author: Diane Driscoll

Diane Driscoll is a manager for the Performance Improvement division of OSF HealthCare. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Illinois State University and worked as a senior manager of transition services before joining OSF HealthCare in 2013.

Diane lives in Peoria with her two cats. In her free time, she likes to hike, bake, run and spend quality time with family and friends. She loves to travel to places that she hasn’t been to before, so she can explore, shop and eat.

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Categories: Innovation