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Facilitating a 1.5 hr idea generation session with industry members who don’t know each other. Any ideas?


I have been asked to facilitate an idea generation session in the middle of an industry event, where I have 1.5hrs with approx 40 people. These participants won’t necessarily know each other and may or may not come to the event with ideas already, they also may not work in the industry. The objective is to generate as many ideas as possible for new projects in this particular industry and I quote from the brief (“hopefully begin to select some ideas”). What do people think of my approach? All suggestions welcome? I am concerned about the time allowed and the fact that people won’t know each other.
I am thinking about:
Explaining the rules of brainstorming
A warm up exercise – probably group exercise imagining some ideas through the eyes of some well known leaders.
Identifying broad opportunity areas with the entire group, and posting blank flip charts up around the room with these opportunity areas as headings on the charts.
Using up beat music - when it starts everyone gets up and posts ideas they may have onto a flip chart under what they feel is the appropriate opportunity area. They then take time to review all ideas.
When the music changes everyone has a chance to add ideas to any flip chart they wish.
Everyone is then given 3 red sticky spots, they can review the charts again and vote with their spots adding them to the post it ideas they prefer.
As the session draws to a close we discuss the most popular ideas.

What does anyone think, do you see any potential pit falls or have any suggestions?



9 Responses

  1. a cynical little thought

    ~Hi A

    Sorry to be negative but if I were a delegate at this event I’d be kind of sceptical at putting forward my potentially award winning idea just to have someone else use it, benefit from it and take the kudos/credit.

    Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, you could represent the industry association and the projects you want to generate are for the genuine benefit of all members……. in which case ignore me!



  2. I Agree

    Hi A

    I sort of agree with Russ.

    The No 1 consideration for any delehate at any event is "what’s in it for me"

    I went to a "paid for" event last year and was asked to help design a training course for one of the course leaders. errrrr whats in it for me apart from wasting a day out of the office.

    I think you should be very careful with this one!







  3. Idea Generation Session

    Hello, I notice that your session is placed in the middle of an industry event, and wondered if you have an opportunity to connect the content of your session to the previous sessions?  What new ideas might your audience have been exposed to during the previous sessions? If the objective of the session is to generate ideas, then what about having 4 stations/flipcharts (or a continuous wall of lining paper) with the headings, what could the industry do, more of, less of, different, and what could the industry do better. This approach enables those who do not work in the industry to add value from their sector. Get the groups to swap stations and select a couple of ideas to explore and further develop. . …Joy

  4. All these points are very valid so now…?

    Hi everyone all your points concerns are very valid. A state body is hosting the event (so not paid) for the benefit of anyone interested in this emerging industry sector. So all ideas will  be summarized and be shared and for the benefit of everyone. But you are right R and Steve when you say some delegates will be thinking whats in it for me and why would they share their ideas with the mob?  And Joy yes there is bound to be something I can connect to from previous sessions and I like your suggestions for headings on the charts. But now I am worried how can I motivate the "whats in it for me" guys ??? and the "Everyone might steal my idea" guys.

     Really appreciate your thoughts, I think this is why I posted in the first place I am uncomfortable about the vague objectives and the "issues" the delegates will bring with them!

    Thanks again any more ideas greatfully recieved. Hope I can recipriocate some days soon!



  5. Buy In

    Hi A

    Just re read all the posts and hope we are not coming across as negative. Without knowing the organisation or real motives behind what you are doing we are all just guessing.

    I’ll assume that everyone involved will benefit so here’s what I would do…

    I agree with the flip charts dotted around the room but I would leave these blank and let the delegates decide on categories.

    I would display a mission statement on a PPT slide such as "Today we will look discover 10 new methods of improving XXXXXX etc"

    Before you launch in to giving instructions you could use the Think, Pair Share method and ask the delegates what they

    want to achieve. (see below) This will create "buy in" and eliminate the negative aspects of this task that were mentioned above.

    I also agree that the final 30 minutes should be deciding on 10 new ideas and also very important to email these a few days

    after the event. I run a Community of Practice for groups of Trainers and this is a great way of keeping up the momentum,_pair,_share.htm (Think Pair Share method)


    Good luck and let us know how you got on.





  6. something different…..


    Hi again A

    I have used this method in similar (but not the same) circumstances in the past….

    Give the delegates each a pre printed piece of paper that has the words " I wish that ……..could/would happen" on one side and "I promise that I will……" on the other side. Twice. They also each get five coloured stickers (little stars do nicely) each of 2 colours (ten stars each, say 5 red and 5 blue). The paper should also have your organisation’s website address on it.

    Based on the messages they have heard to the event so far they now have five minutes in quiet time to individually complete one of each of the two sentences; one wish & one promise.


    Break them randomly into small groups (8 groups of 5 is pretty good) to share and discuss for 25 minutes.  Objective of the discussion; to share each person’s wish and promise, to discuss and debate the relative merits.

    Then give them five minutes more quiet time to complete the second set of sentences; differently if they have developed their ideas, radically differently if they have preferred someone elses’.

    Back into their groups to discuss again for 25 minutes and try to select the group consensus "Most valuable to the future of the industry" from the wishes and promises. Groups to write each of the "winners" up on a flip chart; wishes in red promises in blue

    Each group to simply read out their two winning entries and put the flips up on the walls; you now have eight wishes and eight promises, publicly announced and visible.

    They now have the last five minutes or so to mill around the room and individually allocate their stars as votes onto the flipchart pages of their choice; red for wishes and blue for promises.  They can allocate all five to one idea or they can split them up in any permutation.


    Once all the votes are allocated thank them all and send them on their way reminding them to keep their piece of paper and, promising to publish the outcomes on your website at/by a set date.

    This way you get "ideas" about behaviours, products, developments, laws, almost anything… also get some idea of the industry/customer opinions about the relative viability of the ideas. You also get some guaranteed traffic to your website to keep the ideas alive.  You could then set up a forum on the website for their comments in the future.

    Leading edge market research it ain’t but a valuable use of an hour and a half it probably is!




  7. Sorry for the essay, but I hope you find it useful…

    Don’t worry; you really don’t have much to worry about. The tables are actually tipped in your direction – for numerous reasons:

    Your audience is likely not to know each other – despite thinking that this might be a minus, it’s actually a great plus. The idea of people not knowing each other creates a great opportunity for diversity, and diversity you’ll be aware is key in a good old fashioned brainstorming session.

    Some of them might not be in the industry – see previous answer. Not only does this create yet more diversity, it goes a long way to preventing functional blindness. People asking why, and how, challenge paradigms and quite often come from outside of industry. It’s easier and slightly more normal to ask why when you’re not supposed to know yet (i.e. you’re a newbie).

    As an additional bonus, you get what we call (by that I mean people in my organisation) Perspective Push – this is where one is forced to explain things in different ways depending on their listener. Imagine, for instance, your normal way of explaining a process that you explain all the time doesn’t sink in with someone new. This might even seem odd, as it normally works so well. It’s because your new person thinks differently and uses different modals to organise information about their world. So, as a result, you have to think about how else you can say it, what different analogies might work – and even get a little help from your listener.

    My recommendations:

    If you expect that your audience aren’t all round tables brainstorming all the time, and this will be a new experience for them – try not to bring out loads of clichés and bizarre ways of interacting with each other. Use things that are really simple, and make sense straight the way.

    For instance, I wouldn’t use the music – not in a musical chairs sort of way. Certainly have it in the background, and think of something that’ll stimulate what you want.

    Do you really want fast music? This suggests rushed and hasty thinking. Or, do you want complex music with layers and fine detail? This suggests deep thinking and exploration of ideas.

    Again, I wouldn’t use the music as an instruction platform (i.e. when to start and stop). Not in this instance anyway – it’s nice and easy to do it with a relaxed audience that expect to take part of odd and crazy activities, but you’ll alienate the ones that aren’t comfortable. You can overcome this very quickly, but given you’ve got an hour and a half, I’d suggest you don’t have to the spare time or energy to invest.

    I like the idea of breaking things down into categories, that’s really useful for organising ideas – but, it is also something that can be done later. Sure, you can do it at the start but equally you can do it at the end – just make sure you know you have the option and the pros and cons of each.

    For instance, creating categories defines a focus – but can create boundaries and limitations. Alternatively, you can categorise the ideas later – by getting people to take a look at what’s there and asking them to come up with categories for them. The benefit of this is that you get straight into generating ideas and you don’t chop off a whole raft of ideas because you forgot or didn’t think of the category for it to go into.

    You really need to start by setting a creative tone – letting people know what you mean by creative, and allowing them to experience being creative. So many people don’t feel creative, and certainly don’t feel so on demand.

    There are small creative exercises you can do to get people going – I have a few really good ones. But, I’m going on a bit now – so message me and I’ll explain a few. That goes for anyone else who could do with a hand – especially if you want to hire me 😛

    Once you’ve gotten creative juices going, you can then start to bring focus toward your objective. It’s easy to get this bit wrong, but hopefully you’ll have a good idea of what it is you need to achieve – I know that you’ve suggested that the brief is a bit vague, but at least you have “ideas for projects” which is quite specific as it requests quite usual organisational behaviours and models.

    You also need to find a better way of prioritising your ideas. Red spots might give you a massive list of ideas to look further into, worse still they won’t reflect a comparator that is shared among your audience. One person will be very different from the next as to why they chose A over B and so on.

    Build exercises at the start that form foundation of periodic critique. A numerical scoring system works really well, and after every 5-6 ideas a group can talk about how the list so far scores. We use a system (not exclusively, but quite often) which we call Impact Scoring:

    Lastly, you have a large group – lots of ideas! Well, that’s the plan. Productivity will be a struggle, especially over short periods. Usually rapport building skills will interfere as people get to know each other more, nice for team building, not so for acting fast.

    Separate your large group, straight the way, into smaller factions. That game we play called “The Shapes Game”, breaks a group down into pairs; another that we play breaks groups down into very arbitrary usually asymmetrical factions. What I’m trying to say, is split people up into self-managing groups – we find 3 or 4 people per faction works well from large groups with small timescales of performance.

    To maximise your time, instead of talking about the top ideas at the end (which might be more appropriate), you can have Idea Champions – you pick out a number of people to take one of the top ideas each and encourage anyone who wants to be involved in building on the idea or taking it further – for everyone to see their respective Idea Champion. What with the internet nowadays, you can help facilitate further conversations and created a bigger outcome.

    A final note, on people who don’t want to share their ideas… generally, people aren’t restrictive of their ideas, they just aren’t in the mood to share. When people are feeling highly motivated and feeling creative – there is a usually a ensuing sense of kindness and sharing, to conclude; if you can help people be creative they’ll almost always join in.

  8. Que?

    Also not forgetting that getting 40 people to understand what you want them to do and then do what you want them to do is no easy task!


  9. Thank you

    Just wanted to log a big thank you to all of your for your tips and advice, its been a great learning experience and I’ll be taking on board (and using) a lot of what has been suggested.


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