Tools Powerful Thinkers Use to Drive Ideation.

The formation of ideas or concepts.

“I have an idea I want run by you and see what you think.” I’ve said this many times to my friend Austin, often as we gather to sip the most delicious drink of all — coffee. Austin knows that this is not the start of some monologue, but a conversation.

This is an invitation to go down the creative rabbit hole. I know that the idea we start the conversation with is not the one we’ll leave with.

Austin smiles and says, “Yes I’m interested.”

Sadly much of the conversations around ideas whether in a coffee shop or office start very differently with someone presenting an idea and then someone else shutting it down because of some gap in the concept.

Tw0 things are at play:

  1. Ideas are not seen as ‘in process’, but as good or bad.
  2. People simply do not know how to encourage ideas.

5 Conversation Techniques For Ideation.

Drive ideation in your conversation.

These techniques for forming ideas are learned best by proximity and practice. In my experience employing these ways of speaking and thinking will encourage others to join you.

At the right stage: I’m not recommending using these approaches in every meeting and conversation. I’m talking about the product development phases, brainstorming and ideation sessions. Still these tools may seep into other parts of your thinking in a useful ways.

1. Speak to ideas not people.

Ideas can’t be stupid, they don’t think. They can be inadequate because they don’t fill a need. They can lack some form of value and not fit the limitations you’re working in. Yet, calling ideas ‘stupid’ is a bit ill rational. Someone being stupid is a separate topic and for now lets assume you are hanging with some reasonably smart and sharp people.

When you call an idea names, like stupid, it shifts the focus off the idea and on to the person speaking. This will either result in defensiveness or subtle fear and will crush the sharing of future ideas. If it takes 100 ideas to find one good idea then you need to be great at sharing ideas that are incomplete and need work, help and guidance.

Words are powerful because they are an extension of our thinking. It’s well known that if you change how you speak, it will change how you think.

2. Yes, and.

Rule number one in improv is to say ‘yes, and’. This tool has crossed over from improv into just about every other area of thinking and communication.

How it works:
Simply say the words ‘yes, and’ after you hear someone’s idea. Add to what they said rather then killing it. Often an idea is killed when someone says something to the effect of ‘that won’t work’ or the subtler ‘I don’t know’.

I have many memories where I’m gathered with friends talking late into the evening around a fire, siting at corner table in the pub or standing on a back porch. These conversations are free flowing, everyone is simply joking, the energy builds, stories are shared and time fades away.

‘Yes, and’ works because it creates this same kind of flow. It forces you to listen to what others are saying, makes you add to an idea which is an act of acceptance and thus keeps everyone flowing.

3. I like, I wish.

The founders of IDEO know a lot about using ideation in the process to solve real problems. If you have not see a snippet of their team in practice you should check them out. They advocate using the phrase “I like, I wish”.

How it works:
When you hear an idea you simply say something about the concept you likethen add something you wish it did. The secret here is that the thing you wish can be in complete conflict with the original idea and that’s okay — you are actively pushing the idea forward rather then killing it first.

I use this often and find it’s a great way to open an idea to a new angle.

4. Share ‘bad’ ideas.

An idea forms in your mind, yet before you speak it, you see the limitation of the idea. You pause and sit on the idea.

Sharing a ‘bad’ idea, an idea you know it won’t work, is valuable because it allows other to hear something new. A limited idea that will never work may spark another thread of thinking. In these situations I normally say things like, “I know this won’t work, but I’ll bounce it off you.” or “this is crazy maybe it will make you think of something else.”

Sharing ideas without limits creates an atmosphere where collaborators are free to speak their minds more openly and exposes new concepts for connection.

5. Set the right scene, externalize ideas.

There is a phenomenal book on negotiation called ‘Getting to Yes ’. One of the techniques the authors speak about is sitting on the same side of the table as the person you are negotiating with so that you are both looking at the challenge you are negotiating over. This helps dissolve the feeling that there is a battle of will happening.

To augment this idea I was talking to my friend Chris who is very skilled in architecture he explained to me how collaborative spaces work. One thing Chris talked about was how movable furniture can improve the collaborative environment by allowing quick configuration around a conversation or whiteboard. Sure enough I added some ottomans cubes to my space and people feel free to move them around. It opens the small space up and allows team members to address the whiteboard together more easily.

The principles of setting the space you are working up so that you and collaborators are all looking and speaking to a problem, is important. Next time you look at your space ask if collaborators are set up to tackle a challenge rather then each other’s ideas.

Pushing Ideas Forwards

i·de·a·tion — via IDEO:
Ideation is the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas.

My goal is to pushing ideas forward as part of the process of developing amazing offerings. These tools are not about being ‘soft’ with people. Passion, excitement, and having a point of view are all part of the process. These are tools are about inviting people in, collaborating and building the future.

While there are a myriad of tools, these are ones I use almost every day.