There are literally hundreds of different activities you can use for generating and developing ideas. I thought I would share a trio that work well together. They each require a specific type of thinking or mindset to be successful. The three activities are good representative examples of Divergent, Emergent and Convergent thinking.
I have picked these three because they flow well together and although they work well on their own they do complement each other really well.
1. Crazy 8s
Time: 5mins / Skills: Idea generation / Mindset: Divergent or Open thinking / Resources: 8 Post it notes per person, felt tip pens / Group: Ideal for small-medium sized groups, you will need a time keeper. Independent work.
Generate 8 separate ideas in 5 minutes.
Sounds easy enough but this is a tough little task. For each round participants have 40 seconds to draw an idea on a post it note. When the first round is done the timer is immediately reset and the second round begins, continues on for 8 rounds in total, 5 minutes.
The toughest part for most participants is the fact you can only draw the idea – stick to the no words rule. It means they have to generate an idea and then communicate that clearly. Worth spending some time being clear about the mindset of divergence and openness. All too often we are own worst filters and people find this hard to shake.
2. Idea Pairs
Time: 15–20mins / Skills: Idea development / Mindset: Emergent or Exploratory thinking / Resources: Post it notes, felt tip pens / Group: Ideal for small-medium sized groups that are comfortable working in pairs.
Combine ideas and discuss in a pair how they could work together.
I really like the simplicity of this next step and it flows seamlessly from the intensity of Crazy 8s. Once you have finished the first step task (Crazy 8s) each participant will have a bunch of ideas, hopefully they will have 8 post it notes in front of them, so long as they didn’t bail halfway through.
Ask the group to get themselves into pairs to discuss some idea combinations. Each person in the pair picks one of their ideas at random and combines it with the random choice of their partner. Placing the two post it notes side by side. Through discussion the combination is explored and new ideas are noted, this should increase the pool of ideas around the table.
I find this simple step is a great way to collide ideas that might have remained in isolation. It also helps participants talk through their ideas, developing them further. An Exploratory or Emergent mindset is needed here which emphasises the need for developing, pushing and prodding ideas in new directions.
3. Impact Vs Effort Matrix
Time: 20–30mins / Skills: Idea filtering / Mindset: Convergent or Closed thinking / Resources: Post it notes, felt tip pens, whiteboard or large flip chart paper (tabletop also works fine) / Group: Small to medium group size for discussion.
Judge each idea created against a High/Low measure for Effort to implement and the Impact it could have.
I always enjoy using this little matrix to judge a smaller handful of ideas. You might have anything from 30–50 ideas from the group, depending on the group size. You might ask the whole team to pick 2–4 of their ideas to bring into this round, perhaps the pairs from the previous activity will discuss what to keep and what to cut. Once you have done that first filter you can begin to decide what is High/Low for Effort and Impact.
Draw up a four quadrant matrix on a whiteboard or use some masking tape to do the same on those furry display boards! Label the axes accordingly:
- HIGH EFFORT
- LOW EFFORT
- HIGH IMPACT
- LOW IMPACT
Now all you have to do as a team is discuss each idea and where it should be placed, measuring/judging the effort needed and the potential impact it could have. This is always a great way to converge into a small pocket of ideas that fit your requirements. You should pin up the post it notes for the ideas and shuffle them around as you chat about their potential.
From doing this many times I would say that it is useful, as more ideas are added to the matrix, to compare ideas directly: “Will this be harder to implement than this one?” etc. Another tip would be to consider the trajectory of the ideas over time. Effort to implement and impact may in fact reduce or increase – mark up the future trajectory and discuss what this means.
This is an effective task to help the group understand what is practical under the constraints you have as a team. It pushes you to make comparisons between ideas and prioritise and rank them in interesting ways. When you are in this state you are narrowing your options and are thinking in a more Convergent manner.
Well I hope those three little tasks prove useful to you and your teams/students in the future. They flow well together and require barely any special resources. They also fit within an hour if someone is cracking the whip and facilitating well – typical of the ideation phase. The key thing for each step is to explicitly flag the mindset or thinking state that is needed to be successful. They are great examples of the three different thinking states: Divergent, Emergent and Convergent.
Give them a try and let me know how you get on. Remember that these three tools are three of many and you should do everything you can to expand the choices you have in your toolset. When you have more choices you can make better combinations of activities such as this trifecta.
- It is through these different thinking states that we typically experience a creative process. They often fall in the order written above but just as frequently break that rhythm. You can read a little more about the ebb and flow between divergent and convergent thinking in my previous blog post. ↩
- I first came across the Crazy 8s ideation strategy from Google Ventures and a Jake Knapp blog post which is worth a read – lots of other ideas there too. ↩
- I’d recommend building in some time to debrief after Crazy 8s. It is quite an intense task requiring focus and individual effort. Spend some time asking how people felt and how they found the task – giving the participants some time to chat will help the overall flow. ↩
- The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. ↩