How To Have Outstanding Innovation Sessions and Brainstorms

I’ve always been intrigued by the Steve Jobs quote: “You know great design when you want to lick it.” But how the heck do you design great products, or great ideas that will revolutionize your own business, or that of a client? I just attended a session on innovation which gave me the answer. It’s a short read. And invaluable.

Some of the best thinking and work within STW is coming from our superb group of branding and design agencies. So when our training company, Phuel, told me about their latest licensed simulation: Design Thinker, I was immediately intrigued. This session gives participants live practice in the skills of design thinking, and was developed in partnership with Experience Point and IDEO, probably the most famous innovation design business in the world. So we immediately signed up our leaders to attend the course, and were not disappointed. Here’s what we discovered.

First and foremost, “The freedom is in the discipline.”

Now that’s a Michael Jordan quote, but it simply means the best ideas come from a structured process. The Design Thinker process is structured, and built around three lenses. This is the key. And I’ll also in a moment share IDEO’s seven key Brainstorm Rules- they’re great! First, the three lenses to consider when trying to innovate.

Start with DesirabilityWhat do people (the audience, the target market) REALLY desire and want. Start by thinking about the problem entirely with a lense of the user experience, expectation and need of the target consumer or end user.

Then look at FeasibilityIs your business or the client’s business technically or organizationally able to pull it off.

And then review ViabilityIs the idea financially viable? Is there a market for it at the price we need to sell it?

Then the Design Thinker framework suggests a three phased process to ideation.

Inspire- which is about defining the challenge, observing people, and forming the insights. To nail the insight needed on what people want, we need to be better observers… to spend time watching how the target interacts and engages with the current product. “The real voyage is not seeing new lands, but seeing with new eyes.” Marcel Proust.

Ideate- where you frame the opportunity, and brainstorm ideas (more on that in a moment).

Implement- where you trial in small steps to validate, adapt, evolve.

And- finally- here are the IDEO 7 Brainstorm Rules:

Defer Judgment– there are no bad ideas at this point. There will be plenty of time to judge ideas later.

Encourage Wild Ideas– it’s the wild ideas that often create real innovation.

Build On The Ideas Of Others– think in terms of ‘and’ instead of ‘but’. If you dislike an idea, challenge yourself to build on it and make it better. This is really powerful. Take any idea. And work as a team to expand that idea. Just for 60 seconds. “Hey- let’s get Madonna to open the shoe store.” (bad idea you think- no way we can afford it)…” Ok- how about we get a Madonna look-a-like to open the store…” “Ok- how about we hold a Madonna look-a-like competition, on line and off…” .. “Ok- how about we stage the biggest gathering of Madonna look-a-likes in the world, and go for a world record of some sort…” By building on an idea, you might end up with a bigger idea that is actually doable.

Stay Focused On The Topic– you will get better output if everyone is disciplined.

Be Visual- Try to engage the logical and creative sides of the brain. A quick sketch can make your idea more understandable.

One Conversation At A Time– Allow ideas to be heard and built upon.

Go For Quantity– Set a big goal of numbers of ideas and surpass them. Ideas should flow quickly.

In summary

You need structure and discipline to develop great ideas and to have great brainstorms.

When you want innovative ideas, view everything through three lenses: start with Desirability, then look at Feasibility and Viability. Then get creative by following the three steps: Inspire, Ideate, Implement.

And then passionately follow the IDEO 7 Brainstorm Rules.

Give it a go. See if better ideas pop out the end. Bet they do!

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6 Responses to How To Have Outstanding Innovation Sessions and Brainstorms

  1. Paul Spon-Smith June 6, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Hi Chris,
    Love this one so much I’m forwarding it to my Design School and IT management ready for a Brain Storm. In these times “necessity is the mother of invention” – an oldie but still very relevant.
    Cheers, Paul

  2. Simon June 6, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Insightful as always Chris

  3. Chris Graves June 7, 2012 at 12:59 am #

    There is one, long-held principle repeated here that some research refutes. It is the notion that “Defer Judgment- there are no bad ideas at this point. There will be plenty of time to judge ideas later.” If you look at the research dug up by the author Jonah Lehrer who wrote the best seller “Imagine” (and wrote “How We Decide” and “Proust Was a Neuroscientist”), they reveal that brainstorming in this uncritical, “there are no bad ideas” approach does not work nearly as well as an approach that combines critique and individual work. I realize that is heresy. But see “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work” at:

    XO CG

    • Chris Savage June 7, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      Chris- interesting. I will read it. Intrigued. Thanks for the perspective. Chris


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