change leadership

7 ways to generate great ideas

When we're up against it and embroiled in our busy lives, it can be difficult to take a step back to think of new ideas that may actually help us, our teams or our organisations. Yet new ideas are essential to enable us to adapt, innovate and achieve our aspirations.

You may be familiar with ideas generation sessions that involve sitting in a meeting room, debating ideas and capturing them on a flipchart. This can work well in some situations; however, it can also be somewhat uninspiring and not always inclusive. Alternatively, you may be experiencing a personal challenge that requires some fresh thinking that you're struggling to generate on your own. Precious time that is set aside for ideas generation should be productive and engaging for those taking part. This article is to remind you that there are various ways to create great ideas. Here are seven of them that you may not have thought of:

  1. Clearly frame the question that you are answering before you begin. This gives focus to your ideas. For example, 'How can we grow our market share by x%?', 'What do I/we want this organisation to have achieved in 3 years’ time?', 'How can we ensure that this recent incident never happens again?' or 'How could we address this problem for our population within 10 years?'.

  2. Humour. When working with a group, use humour appropriately to put people into a more creative state before tackling the more serious business of generating ideas. For example, I've asked participants to make a paper plane and write their name and an interesting fact about themselves inside it. Participants then fly their plane from the back of the room to the front to be read out. The plane that flies the furthest gets a prize. With paper planes flying and the element of competition, people reconnect with their inner child, there's laughter and the energy in the room goes up. You can then use this positive energy to focus in on the challenge to be addressed.

  3. Provocation. If you or your team are unable to develop your thoughts because of a perceived barrier, such as affordability or a limiting belief (e.g. this won't work because....), imagine that this barrier no longer exists. Spend 10 minutes thinking of all the things that would be possible. What does this give you that you didn't have before? How might you make even a small amount of progress towards achieving these things?

  4. Creative visualisation. Imagine that you have somehow addressed the challenge in question and expand this into a vision that can be represented on paper, e.g. a mind map, a picture or a collage. Ask questions of yourself or the group to expand the vision: What do you see? What can you hear? Who are you with? What are you doing? What are others doing? When is this? How do you feel? Once this is clear, then brainstorm all the possible ways that you could get there.

  5. Silent brainstorm with groups. Some people can find it uncomfortable to share their thoughts openly in a group. They may feel insecure speaking up or instead have a preference for introversion. You may also have a big group to engage with and want to hear from everyone. Using a silent brainstorm can give everyone an equal opportunity to contribute. Give everyone a set of sticky notes and a time limit (e.g. 7 minutes) to, in silence, scribble down one idea per note. Ask participants to stick their ideas up on the wall (the movement creates some energy) and then group these together into themes to then discuss as a group, before you move into prioritisation.

  6. Go for quality not quantity. An alternative view to the traditional brainstorm (which involves getting everything out on the table without filtering it), is to work on one idea at a time and to develop it to be the best that it can be. This way it can be evaluated in a more informed way. Either as an individual, or in a small group, take a piece of paper and draw the first idea that comes up, all the while withholding judgement as to whether the idea is workable in practice. Ask questions to expand the idea and bring it to life. For example, 'What does it look like?', 'How does it work?'. Spend 5 - 10 minutes positively developing every idea before moving on to evaluation.

  7. Walk and talk. Creativity comes to us when our brains make new connections, therefore it helps if we can step away from our immediate work environment to think of new ideas. Try going for a walk with a trusted person to explain and expand on your ideas. Encourage the other person to ask questions to expand your thoughts. The movement and change of scene can have an energising and creative effect, plus talking it out can crystallise your ideas.

Summary

We've explored seven approaches here to generating new ideas as an alternative to debating ideas in a traditional meeting format, or wrestling with a problem on your own. Once you have the ideas captured, evaluate and prioritise these to see which ideas are worth implementing or at least developing further. Simple tools can be useful here that also build consensus. Try using an Ease vs. Impact/Benefit grid or Dot Voting before you move onto planning your solutions.

Which ideas generation techniques do you use most frequently? How could different approaches generate new thinking for you, your team or your organisation?


6 ways to lead change through stronger human connections

Change efforts within organisations often focus heavily on the 'technical' elements of change, such as structures, processes and documentation. These elements are important for any significant change initiative, however change is fundamentally about shifting people's attitudes and behaviours. As humans we are social beings who are wired to connect with other humans, therefore it follows that strong human connections are critical for leaders to achieve successful change. 

Here are six lessons learned from personal experience to help you create stronger human connections within your organisation or change programme:

  1. The personal touch. As a leader of change, giving your time to speak to people, listening to what they have to say and, importantly, acting on what you hear demonstrates positive qualities such as inclusion and trustworthiness. This appeals to people's need for social status, recognition and fairness, which is understood to be as important to our brains as our physical status. Try small but genuine gestures to value others like remembering names and making eye contact when people are speaking to you. Be open and transparent. Show some of yourself as a leader that makes you human, for example: your humour, your worries or your aspirations. Ensure that any feedback you receive is followed up in the eyes of the person or people that you are engaging with, even if you decide not to act on all of it.

  2. Listen. Interrupting when people are sharing their thoughts, or allowing yourself to be distracted in conversations (for example, by email, phone or self talk), can break rapport and lead others to conclude that you're not really listening. Instead try to concentrate completely on what the other person is saying. Listen to the words, notice body language and, where appropriate, repeat back a summary of what you've heard to check and demonstrate understanding. When people feel listened to it leads to greater awareness, self reflection and a willingness to co-operate. As the person who is listening, if you practice this consistently you will receive richer insights and build trust with the people that matter.

  3. Be curious. We each have our own version of ‘the truth’ in any given situation, influenced by our values, personality and life experiences. Our own version is not necessarily the 'right' one. Seek to understand what is behind others' opinions by asking open questions and being genuinely curious. It could give you some really great ideas that you hadn't already thought of. It also gives you a better chance of getting to the real root cause of a problem. For example, you may discover that someone's obstructive behaviour is really due to a clash in personal values and a perceived threat to their personal status. You then have something tangible to work with.

  4. Empower others to create your change strategy. Sometimes it can feel quicker to develop solutions in a vacuum or with a small group, however this can lead to heavy resistance once it is presented publicly. Going back to the importance of inclusion, people need to recognise that they have been a part of creating a solution that affects them. Instead, consider presenting the challenge itself and inviting a range of possible solutions. Have coaching conversations with departmental leaders to develop and explore their suggestions. Encourage them to do the same with their direct reports. Provide facilitation, time and space for teams to refine their ideas and develop plans. Back this up with a mechanism for reward and recognition that spans all organisational layers. Have faith that this longer route to creating your change strategy will pay off as greater engagement in the change itself.

  5. Conflict can lead to a better connection. If someone isn't 'playing ball' then don't ignore it. Name it. Explain what you're perceiving and explore what's going on for them. Try and get to the root cause of the behaviour or attitude using open questions and active listening. Don't be afraid to challenge poor behaviour but also seek to address the root causes in a collaborative way where you can. If you can manage this conflict productively, in my experience, you have an opportunity to build a stronger, more trusting relationship with that individual as a result.

  6. Engage continuously. Often change programmes are launched with a flurry of communications activities which can then tail off, leading to a loss of momentum and a loss of trust that the change is worth engaging with. Many of us will have invested our energies into some kind of engagement activity as part of a change initiative, which apparently didn't lead anywhere. Or we may have logged onto a change programme website to see that it hasn't been updated for months or more. The approaches described here must be part of a continuous, genuine effort to connect with people. Keep having conversations, keep listening and keep making people feel included on a personal level.

Creating human connection is an art not a science. Whilst this topic runs much deeper, these points are intended to be easy to understand and apply in practice. How much of your current change effort is focussed on human connection vs 'technical' change elements? Is this balance right? How could your personal leadership approach adapt to achieve greater change success through human connection?