Ideation | Brainstorming | Creativity
Having enough ideas is not the problem.
When I encounter a room set up for a creativity workshop with toys all laid out, I have a visceral desire to flee. But I love coming up with ideas. The energy in the room. Seeing light bulbs going on.
I have coffee regularly with someone actually named Don The Idea Guy. Love, love, love ideas. It’s addicting.
It is important to remember however that idea generation is not the task. It’s just a step in a process. Innovation is the task.
Innovation – Practical application of creativity into something that has an impact.
Why is ideation necessary?
I’m asked to facilitate idea generation sessions frequently. I try to get to the root cause of the request. 100% of the time it’s because of a lack of engagement that exists in the workforce. Leaders hope that a good brainstorming session will get people involved in the business or almost worse, that it’s a simple way to make it obvious the leaders are listening. 100% of the time very little comes out of these meetings beyond more frustration.
Everything we teach as part of The New Leadership Normal contributes to enhancing engagement. Can everyone work as if they owned the company and had everything on the line? Of course. We see it all the time.
Guess what, when someone is engaged in their work, idea generation happens.
Just like a baby a great idea must be swaddled and protected. The mortality rate for great ideas from a front-line employee or an annoying co-worker is extremely high. How these ideas are treated by leaders is a huge contributor to whether engagement occurs. It’s a connected circle.
One thing I learned in one of those sessions with Don The Idea Guy was that we have to be careful to limit the role of the Devil’s Advocate. Later in the process it’s smart to pick at an idea and look at all the potential roadblocks. Early in the life of an idea it might not survive the scrutiny. This usually isn’t a reflection on the idea but on the psyche of the person who generated the idea. This is something to closely monitor as a leader.
If it is painful to generate ideas then ideas will stop.
This pain could come from not being heard, being minimized, not learning anything in the idea back and forth, or being dismissed. Leaders control avoiding these pain points.
The Gift of an Idea
As a leader, think of ideas from your team, as a cherished gift.
You’re CEO, or CXX, or VP, or department manager, or supervisor. You realize that you don’t have power right? Yes, ultimately you can decide who works on the team. How great your team is is outside your power though isn’t it? You can hire skill and experience.
That employee, that individual person, has the key to unlock that skill and experience and gift it to you and the organization.
When a gift is given freely it’s a function of reciprocity. My friend Brian Ahearn writes about this extensively. Reciprocity is not necessarily a direct tit-for-tat scenario but we’re often repaying a kindness or show of respect. With the exception of some societal requirements gift-giving is a very personal thing.
There is nothing more valuable than an idea that is shared. As a leader idea flow is a valid measure of your leadership ability. You paved the way for engagement. You made trust deposits in your team. You promote independent thought. They reciprocate with great ideas.