12 ideas for your next idea generation session

Force random connections

Our brains love puzzles and games; forcing random connections is a great way to get us out of our habitual ways of looking at and approaching an issue. For example, you can ask your group to:

    1. Play with metaphors. How is the challenge like: a car? A work of art? A meal? A holiday?

    2. Use everyday objects, such as a toothbrush, a coffee cup, a pair of spectacles. How do these objects help us? How can the new product / service we’re looking at do something similar?

    3. Use visuals. Assemble a wide range of images and have teams pick two or three, then brainstorm how the issue is similar / different to the visual.

    4. Use the news. Pull a random story out of today’s newspaper and brainstorm how the challenge is like the story.

Use multi-sensory stimuli

We can risk limiting the group’s ability to contribute ideas if we stick with just one sense – so vary the stimuli and see the difference (or hear, touch, smell, taste!)

    5. Visuals – photos, cartoons, cuttings from magazines and journals, headlines from newspapers, screengrabs.

    6. Sounds – music of all kinds, vox-pops (of the consumer group or distributors, for example), ambient sounds (such as the sea if you’re brainstorming around travel), or birdsong, or nursery rhymes. You might use a claxon or whistle if the groups are so engrossed and rowdy you need to call them to order, or give a different noise-making device to different groups that they can then sound off when they hit on a great idea. Obviously you’ll also have the visuals generated by your participants.

    7. Touch / feel – everyday objects (or really unusual ones), tactile toys such as LEGO, card games, giant colourful Post-Its, bendy toys*.

    8. Smell (yes, really) – sprays, such as peppermint or lemon, can add zest to proceedings (though I advise asking permission; some people may have allergies). I’ve seen new leather work well in a focus group about luxury cars, and suntan oil sprayed on towels used to add theatre and ambience to a presentation to a tour operator. You can get scented marker pens*, which many of Zoomly’s participants recall months, even years, later.

    9. Taste – if there’s a foodstuff that is remotely relevant, have it in the room.

Change the pace

Different people, and different tasks need to be mixed up and approached in different ways, the better to keep everyone engaged.

    10. Have a mix of activities that are really quick – against the clock – and others that take longer.

    11. Use different techniques to debrief. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to get out of the rut of ‘now-it’s-your-turn-next-it’s-yours-round-the-table’ (yawn) as a way to debrief and wrap a group task. Try getting people to say their piece in 10 words or less, or in 30, 20 or even 10 seconds. Throw a soft ball or koosh ball* to people in no particular order rather than plod round the table for contributions.

    12. Get out more. Use the outdoors if at all possible – even a walk round the block will help. Try different venues, such as a museum or rehearsal room, an historic building or a wildly contemporary one – or go where your product’s / service’s users hang out.

* You can find these items at one of my favourite places to stock up on facilitation tools and toys – The Training Shop.

You may find this blog post useful: Facilitating idea generation: DOs & DON’Ts.


Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.

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