On April 11 Ty Hagler of Trig Innovation had the pleasure of speaking about the topic of the virtual ideation session. Ty spoke in the Cary West Regional Library at the invitation of Carolinas Innovators & Design Thinkers. The title of the talk was “Virtual Ideation: Activating Customer Insights into Testable Concept Prototypes.”
The Future of Collaboration
For those unfamiliar with this term, a virtual ideation session is essentially a reinvention of the traditional brainstorming meeting. At Trig, we work virtually with multiple creative professionals. Our Industrial Designers on staff have deep experience in the field of idea generation. We have uncovered a process that fostered creativity and allowed each member of a team to contribute their best ideas, two qualities that are commonly absent from a company's traditional brainstorming process.
Working on Working Together
One source of inspiration for virtual ideation has been Dr. Leigh Thompson, a PhD in Psychology from Northwestern and a Professor in the Kellogg School of Management. In her book, Creative Conspiracy, we see a lot of evidence that validates our approach to brainstorming through virtual ideation sessions. She says “creative team collaboration is essential for companies and businesses.” However, she indicates that "decades of research evidence clearly reveals that groups are inferior to individuals when it comes to creativity.” How does someone wrap her mind around the contrasting ideas of team collaboration being good for business while its proven to be less productive than individual thought? According to Dr. Thompson, “true collaboration calls for periods of focused, independent work interspersed with periods of intense, structured team interaction.”
Putting It Into Practice
A virtual ideation session starts with a two-hour period of collaboration that strips away personal identity. Next, the group takes a break. During this break, each participant is asked to engage in a serious process of reflection on the ideas created and how to carry them forward. Afterwards the individuals return to the virtual conference room for another two-hour session. The secret sauce of this format is stripping identity away from the creator of each idea. This dynamic enables the team to establish an idea meritocracy, crushing the introvert/extrovert dynamic-often the most difficult part of working on a team. The creation of an idea meritocracy propels creativity forward according to scientific principles.
During the April 11 event, Hagler tested the attendees through an audience participation segment. He directed the participants to spend about five minutes coming up with ideas about a fictitious project. Hagler then created a virtual room that is identical to what we use with clients. Each individual signed into the system creating an authentic virtual ideation experience albeit with much less time than in normal client situations. In the end, the group generated 61 ideas that ranged from well thought-out plans to quickly jotted-down ideas, with one participant submitting a concept sketch. The group then engaged in a five-minute process dedicated to liking the ideas that resonated most, reflecting on the submissions individually. In the end, two proposals earned the proverbial “Hell, Yes!” from the group, moving to what would be the refinement and potential development stages in the real world.
One of the event organizers, Melissa Kennedy of 48 Innovate, noted the value of the session, especially a redefinition of the goal of brainstorming: “Goals for brainstorming sessions are confused” she said, “the goal of an ideation session should be to drive better creative performance, not team building necessarily. Hence why traditional brainstorming sessions may be successful at team building, but not generating the most innovative solutions or ideas.” She also noted "There were (61) ideas generated on this virtual platform in 5 minutes from 25 people. No one knew who posted what idea, so people were free to let loose. It worked."
Melissa Kennedy, Frank Pollack, and Lisa Jeffries were instrumental to putting the event on and we give them our utmost thanks, as well.