Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Innovation isn’t pulled out of thin air; instead, it’s born when independent thought meets considered collaboration during the brainstorming process. A good group brainstorming session can help you start working on the business, not just in it. This gives you the opportunity to consider how you can help your company operate better, faster and cheaper than the competition.
Developing ideas is essential to improving company operations, so you need to consider how to promote innovation in a team environment. Often, when business leaders picture a brainstorming session, they envision a room full of colleagues shouting ideas and writing them on a whiteboard. In these scenarios, typically, the loudest get heard, and the most popular ideas are agreed upon with little to no regard for the measured impact. Authors with McKinsey recently wrote about a similar situation with a large U.S. cosmetics company.
When it comes to workplace interactions, such as brainstorming sessions, employees often feel that they need to conform. According to a five-part model created by Paul Nail, Geoff MacDonald and David Levy, people conform to avoid rejection and conflict, accomplish group goals or establish their own identity. In other words, why would someone disagree with their boss if it would put their own authority at risk? If you want to find and refine valuable ideas, you’ll need to adopt more productive brainstorming methods.
Rethinking your brainstorming
To better identify opportunities for innovation (and avoid moving forward with an idea that could harm your business), you need to start structuring your brainstorming sessions differently.
First, set a general topic and have your team begin developing ideas individually on their own sticky notes. Then, have everyone put their sticky notes on the board and briefly explain their thoughts. Try to group similar ideas to get a better sense of what themes are developing. Next, allow the group to vote on which ideas are strongest. If you can, vote using a digital option. Many interfaces hide voting results until all votes are in, helping to remove bias.
Just because one idea has the most votes doesn’t mean it should be your company’s top priority. This is where making an old-fashioned pros and cons list can be helpful. Ask everyone in the room what they feel would be the positives and challenges of the idea. This gives underrepresented departments the opportunity to express concerns that the rest of the group may not have considered. These groups should have a voice throughout the entire idea evaluation process.
Outside of a pros and cons list, a few other indicators can reveal whether you have a good idea on your hands. For starters, if the idea has collective backing across teams through the initial voting process and ongoing dialogue, you likely have something impactful. Additionally, you need to consider the value-to-effort ratio. Ideas with a high value-to-effort ratio are more likely to survive the vetting stages, while more complex initiatives will take more rigor to vet. Most importantly, does this idea align with your company’s core values? Consider the ways it gives you a competitive advantage. Does this evoke excitement, or does it feel foreign?
Assessing, refining and implementing ideas
Brainstorming can feel like a tidal wave of creativity, but assessing and refining ideas that come from those sessions takes time. Use the following steps throughout the idea evaluation process to identify which ones work best for your organization.
1. Define the innovation goal
Often, when people think of innovation, their minds jump to the development of new products using the latest technologies. However, new products are only a small piece of the full innovation picture.
Instead of thinking only about your company’s next hot item, consider the Ten Types of Innovation framework. This model explores three main areas of innovation in your business: configuration, offering and experience. By considering each area and how your company might improve across them through better processes and tools, you can avoid the pitfalls of chasing new technology.
2. Ideate and investigate
Not every idea is a golden ticket, so it’s important to generate multiple concepts for possible innovation in your desired space. Moreover, you should refine these concepts and ultimately investigate them with some rigor before making substantial investments.
Consider frameworks such as the innovation funnel to create and screen ideas inspiring innovation. You can use the funnel to prioritize and evaluate the best ideas, shrinking the overall number of innovations and creating the funnel-like shape.
About 80 percent of projects should die during the discovery phase. As you make your way down the funnel, another 80 percent should die during the validation phase. This rule isn’t absolute, but it keeps your idea portfolio from getting bogged down with less-than-stellar innovations.
3. Test your ideas
Testing innovation ideas that make it past the ideation stage can help you determine whether they’re worth pursuing. As you begin outlining the test, spend time identifying your key metrics so you know how to measure results.
Your test can take many forms depending on what you are looking to validate, but the core objective is to build a lightweight way of verifying your assumptions. As a consumer, you are subject to this all the time as providers A/B test their webpages, ads and even packaging.
When it comes to internal innovation, consider specific employees to whom you can roll out a new process before pursuing wider adoption or low-code ways to validate potential software rollouts ahead of investing time and money in custom solutions.
If you want your business to continue pushing toward a better model, promoting business innovation is key. However, not all ideas will work for your company, and that’s OK. Learning how to run a brainstorming session and evaluate business ideas will bring your company one step closer to executing truly impactful innovation.