Engagement for ideas

Engage everyone in idea creation

Among the biggest success factors in any organizational change initiative is engaging staff and stakeholders in participating in the change process; this is true for idea generation through the design cycle to implementation and evaluation. How do we overcome the challenge of disengagement to produce productive creative, innovative ideas in our organizations?

Beyond brainstorming

Ideas are usually the starting point for any change initiative. Ideas produce the raw content of problem identification and the seeds for solution generation. Brainstorming is often the means people first think of as a way to generate ideas and explore concepts. However, there are some substantial problems with this approach and some ways around it.

Brainstorming has been widely criticized for good reasons. Among them: it favours those voices who think (and speak) quickly, speak early, often and loudly. Those early suggestions drive the conversation for what comes next, creating a path dependency that’s hard to escape once initiated. If you’re a quieter, perhaps more contemplative person, you’ll find that you are either late to the conversation or not included. From Jungian Personality Theory, this indicates a bias towards extroversion over introversion, which excludes about 40 per cent of the population according to some estimates.

This approach also favours what Min Basadur would classify as an ‘generator’: someone who’s work style preferences favour idea generation. Those from the other quadrants in the Basadur Profile, particularly ‘conceptualizers’ and ‘optimizers’ (ones who’s work style preference leans toward processing and organizing information) are less likely to respond quickly.

Ideas in private and public

Another problem with many ideation strategies is that many really useful ideas are a bit heretical or outlandish. While design thinking writers often refer to the need to generate ‘wild ideas’ without criticism or judgement, the truth is that’s a lot harder to do in practice, particularly when there are power dynamics in the room, reputations, and the real fear that comes with change and challenges to established practices. The public nature of the ideation process favours transparency, but induces self-censorship and produces disengagement for many and hyper-engagement for a few.

A solution is to have those involved in the process generate ideas independently and anonymously contribute them via a suggestion box (digital or analog). Keep the suggestion box open for a defined period — we recommend no more than one week or as short as three days. This allows time for those who are more reflective to mull through their ideas and contribute them, while those who are more quick to generate ideas will not be affected.

These are then collated independently by someone neutral to the problem and solution set and organized thematically. This has the advantage of potentially embedding some of the wildest ideas within a small set of other ideas that might seem far less threatening. If you create a category of ‘wild ideas’ the risk is that the entire category will be dismissed. A more public, but elaborate, means of doing this can be found in the CoNEKTR Model described elsewhere.

This process can be repeated over the design cycle at different stages – anywhere diverse perspectives and feedback is needed.

Overcoming biases to better ideas

The bias toward ‘rapid ideation’ in design thinking systematically excludes people in favour of a well-meaning intention of trying to avoid participants ‘over-thinking’ a problem. While that might happen, it still prevents many from engaging in the process fully because of personality, work preferences, cognitive style and social pressures.

The strategy listed above is a simple, but highly effective means of getting lots of ideas and engaging your entire team in the process. Try it out. You might be surprised what ideas come from it all.

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