By Shayla Callis, Design and Innovation Leader at Farmers Insurance

To grab attention in a crowded marketplace, companies large and small need to deliver fresh products and services on a regular basis. But in today's fast-paced, competitive business climate, it can be challenging to consistently generate new, high-quality ideas and avoid recycling concepts and offerings. No matter how brilliant any business leader may be, there are only so many times he or she can go back to the same well for the next game-changing idea. So the question keeping that leader up at night becomes, "How do I foster consistent, critical and creative thinking throughout my enterprise?"

My job at Farmers Insurance revolves around helping to provide answers to that question. To generate new, worthwhile ideas, I've found that brainstorming while embarking upon the design thinking process can be a highly effective way out of that rut. By combining the tenets of design thinking with a focus on user empathy--doing one's best to truly understand the end user's experiences and feelings--the new ideas can really start flowing.

To better structure and optimize those ideation sessions, use this dos and don'ts list as a guide:

Don't start with boundaries. 

To combat fears of saying "the wrong thing" and put participants at ease, kick off the entire process with a wide-open acceptance of any and all ideas. State explicitly that crazy options are not only welcome, they are encouraged. While one wacky concept may not be viable on its own, the conversation could spark another colleague's creative juices and lead to the next innovative product or process.

Don't bring any assumptions to the table.

It's tempting to assume what could come out of a specific brainstorming exercise. A leader that has been so close to the challenge at hand for so long can think they've heard all the outcomes, objections, and questions before. The beauty of the design thinking process, however, lies in the unanticipated connections your team can create when they're given permission to come up with unfiltered ideas.

But do clarify your goals.

If every participant starts spouting off ideas at will, the louder participants may drown out quieter team members. To add focus and encourage all to participate, open with a clear challenge or statement of purpose. The facilitator can still remain open to outside the box ideas while focusing the team's thinking on the specific problem at hand to be solved.

Do encourage user empathy--and bring it to life.

Take time to humanize the challenge by putting the team in the end user's shoes. Do some empathy mapping by creating personas for those end users. Post the descriptors of what those personas are "Thinking," "Seeing," "Feeling," and "Doing" in a highly visible area for all participants to reference throughout the session.

Do use a "write first, talk later" process.

Give each participant 10 to 12 minutes to write as many ideas or potential solutions that solve for the challenge statement. At this stage, aim for quantity over quality and limit any conversations that might prematurely define solutions. When time's up, have each person narrow down their thoughts to two or three of their favorite ideas and share them with the larger group. From there, the full team can provide feedback and select concepts for further development. The entire process should take no more than 30 to 45 minutes.

Do test, refine, and test again.

Once you've created detailed, concrete options, start getting feedback by testing the solutions with users who could be impacted by the changes. Keep in mind that revisions are likely, and establishing a consumer feedback loop will be beneficial to the end product.

Creative solutions don't usually arrive in a single blinding flash of insight, but rather in a series of small steps. One idea spurs a new, related thought, which sparks another idea, and so on. Remember, great ideas can come from anywhere. Fast-paced, diverse and iterative design thinking sessions can help you maximize the likelihood that your organization continues to evolve at the speed of today's changing marketplace.

Published on: Jan 15, 2019
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