Activity 4: Idea Generation

After laying the groundwork by identifying challenges and establishing success criteria, the next pivotal step is generating actionable and innovative ideas to tackle these challenges. This ideation phase is crucial and should leverage insights from as broad an audience as possible to ensure a rich diversity of perspectives and solutions. Here’s how to effectively engage a wide audience in the idea-generation process and explore new avenues for overcoming obstacles.

Engaging a Broad Audience for Idea Generation

Annual strategy often leads to annual roadmaps. If you are going to tell your teams what they are doing for the next 12 months, why bother hiring smart people? Many people, especially those working closest with your current systems, know limitations and opportunities that aren’t widely known. Passing down a roadmap from leadership or product management sometimes creates a suboptimal set of ideas, both from a feasibility and an innovation perspective.

Leverage Internal Expertise

  • Technology and Operational Insights: Start by tapping into your organization’s wealth of knowledge. Employees with direct experience in your company’s technology stack, operations, and customer service are invaluable sources of realistic, actionable ideas. They understand the practical limitations and capabilities of current technologies and processes and can identify areas ripe for innovation.
  • Cross-functional Workshops: Organize cross-functional brainstorming sessions that bring together diverse teams from technology, marketing, sales, customer service, and other relevant departments. These workshops encourage the sharing of different perspectives and can lead to the synthesis of entirely new solutions.
  • ASK them by Surveys, email, or Slack/Teams: Challenge the staff to solve challenges. Crowdsource these ideas through rapid and public discourse. Have a challenge of the week discussion channel where challenges can be posted and discussed for a limited time. People will contribute as and when they can in an informal way.

Incorporate External Perspectives

  • Customer Feedback: Direct feedback from customers can provide insights into what is truly valuable to them, highlighting areas for improvement or innovation that internal teams might overlook. Use surveys, focus groups, or customer interviews to gather this feedback.
  • Industry Benchmarks and Trends: For inspiration, look to industry benchmarks, reports, and emerging trends. What technologies or processes are gaining traction in your field? How are leading companies addressing similar challenges?

Generating actionable ideas to overcome strategic challenges requires an inclusive approach, leveraging internal expertise and external perspectives. By fostering a culture of innovation and maintaining an open mind, companies can discover new ways to advance toward their long-term vision, ensuring they remain competitive and responsive to the changing needs of their customers and the market.

Timebound the Initial Idea Generation

Rather than once a year, the goal is continuous ideation for challenge-solving. If there is a significant and high-urgency challenge with no current ideas, then no progress will be possible for that challenge, and success is no closer tomorrow, next month, or next year. Leadership must create urgency for major challenges that currently have no ideas, and setting a timeframe to encourage solutions helps.

The goal of setting a time limit on initial idea generation is not to cut off discussion; it’s to help focus thinking on a particular challenge that is currently lacking actionable ideas.

Sometimes, ideas help people see alternatives. Consider including a “less ideal” idea in the discussion to spur deeper thinking. As people critique a bad idea, they describe the traits of a better one.

Too many ideas?

Annual strategy planning is often very time consuming and detail oriented. More ideas to analyze means more effort. This often mutes the ideas chosen to analyze prematurely to reduce the effort and load on teams who analyze and provide the necessary details for planning. CASE avoids this trap. By spreading the load over the entire year, more ideas can be explored to solve each challenge. 

CASE encourages progressive elaboration of the idea content. It starts by asking for just a few sentence description of an idea, just enough to prioritize and triage. Once it’s selected, a little more information is needed about size and what teams are needed, but this will be for just a few ideas not the entire company brainstorming.

It’s crucial to keep the flow of new ideas uninterrupted at any stage of the CASE process. Adaptability is key to ongoing strategic evolution, and the implementation of ideas is vital for generating the feedback needed to foster further innovation and improvement. 

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