An Excerpt from Stir It Up! Recipes for Robust Insights and Red Hot Ideas

Stir It Up book cover

The following is an excerpt from Stir It Up! Recipes for Robust Insights and Red Hot Ideas by Laurie Tema-Lyn. Published under license from Paramount Books.

Idea Developers

Remember the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn (to Everything There Is a Season),” adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes and put to music by Pete Seeger in 1959? It became a big hit when the Byrds covered it in 1965 and it holds the record as the Number 1  song with the oldest lyrics. Here are the first lines, in case you are not familiar with “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

To Everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To Everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

And a time to every purpose, under heaven

The song is a balm for dealing with life’s cycles and it has a neat parallel in the innovation work that we do. When we are tasked with designing an innovation session (or to use the colloquial, “ideation session”) there is a time to generate, a time to evaluate, a time to develop. These have to be three separate and distinct steps.

Why? Because otherwise it’s too tempting to merge evaluation with generation, and innovation cannot survive in a prematurely critical environment. Ideas need to be free flowing, without censorship, at least for a while so that newness, distinctiveness, and perhaps true breakthroughs can emerge. Then critique and evaluation can come into play.

The typical road map that I employ when designing an innovation meeting for a client is likely to have the following eight steps:

  1. Grounding. Provide pre-meeting “homework” and in-session information sharing to acquaint participants with relevant background material and clarify the objectives and purpose of the gathering.
  2. Broad Idea Generation. Create (without critique) an array of “seeds” or beginning ideas using a variety of creative stimuli, as appropriate to the task.
  3. Focused Ideation. Generate preliminary ideas within certain parameters or elements of the overall meeting task or objectives, still using creative stimuli as appropriate.
  4. Selection. Identify some of these beginning ideas that fit a loose criteria screen, to develop further. At this point, criteria may be general “appeal,” “intrigue,” and a sense that the idea is “distinctive.”
  5. Idea Development. Individuals or small teams work with these selected beginning ideas to build more detail and muscle into them. While still working in a creative vein, we think through and strengthen the idea.
  6. Evaluation. We work with a tighter screen of criteria, which may include addressing a consumer need, fit with business core competencies, manufacturing capability or feasibility within a certain timeframe, and many other elements as appropriate to the task.
  7. Idea Refinement. Selected ideas are enhanced, modified, or transformed in light of evaluation criteria. Options and new ideas emerge as issues are framed as “how to’s” to encourage creative problem solving.
  8. Action Plan. Individuals or team members identify next steps for further development, championing or implementation of ideas.

These eight steps are really just the first round, as this whole process is typically repeated several times before something that was “just an idea” becomes a business platform or strategy, or a product or service makes its way into the marketplace.

No doubt you can see some parallels between this process and the “Turn, Turn, Turn” song as we plant seeds, experience many births, and “kill off” some ideas that just won’t work when judged against important criteria. There’s usually a lot of laughter (and hopefully no weeping!) during the iterative process.

Idea Development is the smallest section here, in terms of number of exercises, but just as important as the other sections, nonetheless! Idea Development is critical for client teams to gain closure and feel satisfied that the ideas they have created were not just a feel-good exercise of “brainstorming.” Rather, these are ideas that I characterize as “having muscle, wing and heart.” They are ideas that have strength and emotional resonance, and clients have the passion to champion them to the next level of development.

Further development might require wordsmithing and preparation for a round of quantitative market research, or ideas may be sent over to the product development team to begin work on prototypes. Before we leave a client innovation session we ask who will be the champions to move a project forward and we create a preliminary timetable and plan for action. We get that level of commitment on the record for accountability and to honor the effort put forth by the client team.

Even with well-intentioned champions, the journey from idea to implementation is not an easy one. Ideas, when they first emerge, are fragile (think babies). They need “good parents” to provide nurturing and support along the way. These idea champions have to be willing to protect and grow the ideas, run interference and build alignment among many stakeholders in an organization. Sometimes they have to break the rules in order to accomplish this. Marketing maven Seth Godin writes beautifully of these folks—the “linchpins” who invent, lead, connect others, and make things happen. They experiment, thrive on uncertainty, and turn their work into art.

Sometimes in spite of all the excellent work, ideas don’t come to fruition. Business priorities change. Ideas that initially seemed exciting and a good fit may turn out to be ahead of their time for marketplace acceptance. Ideas that fill a consumer need can prove too expensive to produce. Or project champions are reassigned and promising ideas are never given full opportunity when handed off to others who are less invested in the outcome. It’s a loss when good ideas languish in dusty reports and old computer files. For these reasons and others we urge clients to keep an “Idea Bank” that can be available to a wider audience within a firm than just those authoring the initial project. We encourage client teams to periodically revisit the Idea Bank to see if time, technology, and consumer need might be more aptly aligned to warrant retesting or building upon a nugget of the initial idea.

In similar fashion, I hope you will consider this book akin to your personal Idea Bank. Withdraw and use exercises as they fit your needs. Deposit your builds, your experiments, experiences, and new ideas in the worksheets throughout.

Laurie Tema-Lyn is the founder of Practical Imagination Enterprises, an innovation and qualitative research consultancy  In Stir It Up! she shares exercises she has used to help her clients recharge their thinking.

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