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The One Mistake I See Almost Every Innovation Team Make

The team gathered around a big whiteboard; each person armed with sticky notes and a sharpie. The person who called the meeting informed everyone that the goal was to spend the hour brainstorming ideas for the next generation of their flagship product. He turns on some background music, sets the timer to one hour and the ideas start flowing. By the time the alarm sounds, the whiteboard is filled with loads of sticky noted ideas (hopefully). Sound familiar?

Now let's look at this same sequence of events in a different scenario...

A man and his dog walk into a vet's office. The secretary informs everyone that the dog has been brought in because it is sick. The vet and his team then gather around the dog and start spurting out their ideas for how to treat the dog. After ten minutes, the veterinary team has thought of a handful of different procedures they could perform on the dog.

Did you spot what's wrong here? The veterinary team didn't first diagnose what is actually wrong with the dog! Instead, they just started spitballing treatment ideas.

You'd be shocked if a vet suggested a treatment without first identifying the problem, so how come we allow it to happen all of the time in our innovation work?

I see innovation teams get so excited to ideate that they rush into coming up with ideas.

Instead of jumping straight into ideation, we must first define and articulate the problem we are trying to solve with our ideas.

If we excitedly dive into generating ideas without first determining the problem we are setting out to solve, then what we produce are random ideas. These random ideas stem from the team member's individual priorities and are not necessarily rooted in solving problems that matter to your customers.

Long story short, without a clear problem to solve, ideation sessions become a waste of time and energy.

Ok, so how do we correct this?

1. Define the problem

Before your ideation session, determine and clearly articulate the problem you are setting out to solve with your team of stakeholders.

Make sure everyone who will be participating in the ideation session understands and is aligned on the problem to solve.

2. Reframe Problem As A Question

Reframe your problem in the form of a How Might We (HMW) question.

This transforms your negative statement into a positive question that'll provoke people to answer.

3. Put Your Problem On Display

Coming up with ideas is fun and exciting. So much so that teams get carried away almost every time.

Post your HMW question large at the top of your brainstorm board for all to see and come back to during brainstorm. This will continuously remind the team to generate ideas in response to the problem.

Before you dive into ideation be sure to define the problem, reframe the problem as a question, and then put your problem on display.

If that's too much, just remember - problem first, idea second.

You'll be amazed at how much more productive your ideation sessions become.


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