The best organizations are ones that produce great ideas on a consistent basis. Those ideas can be original products or services. They could be additions to existing products or services. Or those ideas could be innovative solutions to a problem or challenge plaguing the company.
Often, challenging times can place companies into something of a strategic hyperdrive. They may need to develop great ideas and apply them quickly due to circumstances beyond their control. While this can seem like the hardest time for coming up with the ideas needed to succeed, in truth, sometimes the best ideas come during a crisis.
Look at this past year, for example. According to the Wall Street Journal, 3.2 million Americans have applied for the employer identification numbers needed to start a business, way more than the 2.7 million who did so at this same time in 2019. Clearly, people aren’t using the current crisis as an excuse not to pursue their great ideas. Winning ideas can come at any time and sometimes come to us during times of great turmoil.
In order to capitalize on these great ideas, however, it’s important to understand how the strategic planning process can work. Let’s take a closer look at how your company can best approach ideation during times of crisis, and how the added stress of difficult times may lead to your team’s best work.
Know that ideation is not a linear process
When a crisis occurs and you’re looking to develop your next great idea to help combat it, you might want to go slowly and only develop one idea at a time. This approach isn’t optimal, however. You should understand that ideation isn’t a linear process.
You’ll want to cluster ideas so that you can use some to build on for the next projects in your pipeline. To develop a solid cluster of ideas, you’ll need to do two things:
- Convene meetings specifically to focus on brainstorming and the development of solutions — these are called “ideation workshops”.
- Ensure that the invitee list for these workshops is comprehensive and extensive. You’ll want a diverse group of voices at the table for this meeting. Get the opinion of various departments and a representative subset of your larger organization.
The key to successful ideation workshops is promoting innovation above all else. After all, complex problems require unique, innovative solutions. You want your team to think outside the box. This gets them in the habit of applying creativity to complex problems. As with any skill, you and your team members can build and improve upon through practice. You just have to give your team members the proper environment to foster creativity. That environment includes a diverse group with the open-mindedness to encourage free thinking.
When you cluster lots of ideas, not all of them will necessarily be winners. That’s okay. What happens is that you enable your team to collaborate and build on each other’s momentum. Remember, you don’t need a million great ideas to solve a problem — you only need one. When you dedicate your team to coming up with multiple ideas, it becomes more likely that at least one of them will contain your solution.
Experimentation is key to gaining a competitive advantage
Once you identify ideas you’d like to move forward with, it’s then time to determine whether they’ll work. This is an essential part of the process. Experimentation is where you begin to move from the planning to the execution phase. It’s where abstract concepts begin to take shape as concrete ideas.
So how do you successfully experiment using an idea you’ve developed? The first thing to do is to identify which idea you’ll be experimenting with first. Next, you’ll task the appropriate team members to test the idea to see how well it may work once executed. (How can I tell which team members are the right ones?) Finally, you’ll examine the results and see if you can proceed as planned or if further adjusting needs to be done.
This process will vary depending on the project. The number of people involved will also depend on how labor-intensive the idea is. But regardless of the type of experiment, proper execution will include testing, documentation, and adaptation to figure out what’s going to work best when practically applied.
Why experimentation? Because it gives you a leg up on others within your industry. Experimentation is key to gaining a competitive advantage through new business opportunities and technological advances. When you’re willing to try new procedures, methods, applications, or any other developmental tools necessary to your company’s growth, you open yourself up to new opportunities to improve your business. You may be able to make a process more efficient or make a product/service function more effectively. This distinguishes you from your competition.
When you apply an idea, there’s no guarantee it will work. You’re taking a risk regardless of how good an idea it is — nothing is 100% foolproof or safe. What experimentation does is mitigate that risk. It gives you a better idea of how a solution will work when you actually launch it. This arms you with the data you need to make informed decisions on when and how to execute that solution.
Engage in scenario planning
Imagine you’ve identified a can’t-miss idea. Then you participated in experimentation to determine the idea’s feasibility. You’ve decided you’re ready to move forward. Now what?
Now it’s time to engage in scenario planning. Scenarios are possible futures on how today’s decision will play out. They will have 3 to 5 different stories that can be affected by external factors such as political, economic, technological, environmental, etc. This process can be very useful to create opportunities for addressing issues that might be otherwise neglected.
Asking these questions will help you build out an informed strategy that considers all the potential roadblocks and challenges along the way. You’ll empower the right people within your organization to carry out the idea, figure out a reasonable time frame for completion, and understand what you need to measure to know whether it worked or not.
Scenario planning is an invaluable part of the ideation process because it allows you to develop your team’s roadmap to bringing an idea to fruition. It represents the final stage of moving past the conceptual phase into making it a tangible service, product, or promotional campaign. This isn’t necessarily easy, but it should be the simplest part of the process. After you’ve come up with a great idea and determined that it will work through experimentation, this final part will involve moving the right pieces into place to ensure success.
Why ideation workshops are beneficial to your organization
So where will most of this planning take place? In ideation workshops. These workshops are invaluable resources for your organization because:
- They provide you with a safe space for idea development. There are no bad ideas in the ideation workshop. Even ideas that may not seem fully formed or workable can serve as a springboard for a winning idea later down the line. Even seemingly “bad” ideas are valuable here, in that they allow your team to examine why an idea won’t work, leading you to think of what will.
- Rather than come up with singular ideas, the collaborative nature of ideation sessions leads to them functioning as an incubator for innovation. Your team is much more likely to come up with multiple ideas when they’re working and brainstorming concurrently.
- Ideation workshops ultimately save time. Rather than drawing out the idea development process over weeks and months, they condense the process and, by bringing more people in, make it more likely someone will come up with a usable idea sooner.
When you feel like you’re stuck in a crisis, ideation sessions can serve as a lifeline. They force your team to come together, throw out as many ideas as possible, and help foster the ones that seem to have the most promise. A crisis may seem like the worst time for a company, but out of chaos can actually come inspiration and genius. When the best companies’ backs are against the wall, they tend to get their best and brightest to do their best work. An ideation workshop is the best way to facilitate that.