Running a successful ideation workshop part 1 [Inside 31Volts]

Facilitating workshops is a profession in itself and should be taken lightly. It’s definitely an art that needs to be practiced over a longer period before you master it. The reason decided to make a 2 part Inside 31Volts on workshop facilitation is that workshops are extremely common in service design projects. This first part we’ll share our experiences about ‘ideation’.

Ideation is the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas. In a lot of service design projects you’ll find a ideation phase. This ideation phase typically consists of workshops where the goal is to come up with ideas that will trigger a new ways of thinking. This can be ideas for a new service or ideas on how to improve the current service. Everyone who’s facilitated such workshops know that it can be quite a challenge to get people in a state where they generate new ideas. It’s easy to get stuck in old patterns and common assumptions that prevent those breakthrough ideas to emerge.

Learn to let go of patterns to see new opportunities

As the goals is to generate new ideas, ideation might be considered the phase where you need to be ‘creative’. And that might scare some people off. But there is a difference between being creative and being able to think in new pathways or finding new patterns. Famously Edward de Bono has researched creative thinking and he states that lateral thinking is about being able to let go of patterns that will deliver you new ideas. As we all know it can be quite difficult to let go of these patterns. The good news is that you can learn it and practice it.

Use restrictions or introduce a new perspective to promote new ideas

How do you get your workshop participants to think lateral? One of the things we do in workshops is give the participants restrictions. Restrictions on the ways they can think about it. For instance: how would you solve this challenge if you had no money or you couldn’t use advanced technology. Or we bring in new perspectives like: how would a library look at this challenge or how would McDonalds solve this. Restrictions like these make you look at the challenge from a different perspective. We help the workshop participants to look at the challenge through from as many perspectives as possible.

Blend different personalities within a workshop

It goes without saying that different personalities have a different influence on the flow of a workshop. Our experience is that for the process of ideation it is valuable and necessary to have several personality types in the group. Ideally you’ll want a good mix between two groups of people. On the one hand the people who are practical, learn through experience, what they see is what they know and how they learn. And on the other hand people who are more intuitive, more into conceptual thinking, more into what you don’t see, search for patterns and try to place everything in a bigger picture.

Within service design you definitely want both personality types in your group. In an ideation workshop it’s good to aim for a 50/50 mix. It is important to create a consciousness in the group that there are these types of personalities and that you need them both. They both have their own skills and value and it’s important they know when to bring their value into the process and when they need to hold back.

Learn and practice lateral thinking

The best advice to prepare your participants for an ideation workshop is to practice lateral thinking yourself. You really need to train yourself and there are different kind of exercises available. Once you become comfortable with lateral thinking it’s much easier to transfer the concept on to other people.

There is a nice introduction to lateral thinking by Edward de Bono on youtube straight from the 80s: part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Marc Fonteijn

Marc Fonteijn

Marc is co-founder of 31Volts and helps major private and public organizations to grow by designing services that cultivate a sustainable relationship with customers.

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31Volts [Service Design]