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Generate innovation ideas in a team innovation workshop

By Ruth Tearle

creativeDo you need to get a team to come up with innovative ideas – to submit to your organization’s innovation system? Are you trying to build an innovation culture? Do you need a stream of new innovations in your business? Do you want to empower an innovation group in your company?

As a team leader, facilitator or innovation champion, an innovation workshop provides you with a wonderful opportunity to energize your team, build team spirit, and inject some fun, creativity and innovation into your work place. And in the process, you will help your team to discover the magic they have within them.

There are four ingredients for running a successful team innovation workshop in the workplace:

  1. A clear focus area.
  2. New knowledge.
  3. A climate conducive to creative thinking.
  4. Asking the right questions.

1. A clear focus area.

When running an innovation workshop in the workplace, its important to know the difference between creativity and innovation. Whereas creativity has no boundaries, innovative ideas have to meet certain organizational criteria. These criteria are determined by leaders or sponsors within each organization. They could include ideas that:

  • Will provide value to important customers.
    Innovation is creativity within boundaries.
  • Help the company become more profitable.
  • Support the organization's strategy and values.
  • Solve important business or operational problems.
  • Create new markets, or new products or services.

This makes innovation more difficult to achieve, than creativity. Creativity requires creative skills such as imagination, writing, arts, and the ability to express ideas unconventionally. But innovation is a mixture of all the creative arts PLUS a knowledge of strategic thinking, trends, and the organization's specific context and criteria.

Get a list of criteria that will be used to judge your innovative ideas before you start.

Before you get your group together, speak to the people who are running your organization’s innovation system. Get a list of criteria they will use to evaluate innovative ideas. Let your team know these criteria up front. This will allow your team to focus their time on generating ideas that will be valued - rather than ideas that will be rejected by senior management.

2. New knowledge

“The unconscious, will not produce new ideas unless it has been painstakingly stuffed full of facts, impressions, concepts and endless series of conscious ruminations and attempted solutions. On this we have the testimony of many creative people.” Morton Hunt. The Universe Within.

In organizations we do things by habit. Our thoughts on what is and isn't possible are constrained by our paradigms. These are the rules we have in our heads, on what will and won't work in our organization, and our industry. Our paradigms are based on what has worked for us and others, in the past.

To get at team to think creatively about the future, you need to provide them with a new way of looking at the world.

You need to supply them with information that will show them that the old way of doing things no longer applies - and that their customers expectations are changing, and new competitors are emerging who are doing things differently.


An easy way to get a group to develop creative new opportunities and break existing paradigms is to give them paradigmsinformation on new trends that clearly show:

  • What is changing in the global economy.
  • New technological innovations and social networking trends.
  • New social trends.
  • How your industry is changing.
  • What your competitors are doing.
  • What delights and frustrates your customers.

Use our up to date strategic trend research in your innovation workshop and see how easy it is for your group to come up with innovative ideas and opportunities.

See our free OD Intervention on how to get a group to develop innovative opportunities from trends in our OD interventions library.

3. Create a climate for creative thinking

Inspiration may be a form of super consciousness or perhaps of subconsciousness. I wouldn’t know. But I am sure it is the antithesis of self-consciousness. Aaron Copland.

In our organizations we rarely have time to practice creative thinking. We are constantly bombarded by a multitude of tasks on a never ending checklist. We multi-task. While we attend meetings, write reports, speak to people, answer e-mails and deal with problems, we try to tick tasks off our to do lists as quickly as possible.

The type of behavior which makes us successful doing operational work, prevents us from thinking creatively.

For a group to be able to think creatively, they need:

  • Space. A quiet, spacious venue free from distractions and interruptions.
  • Time: A large chunk of time - preferably up to a day where they can focus on a single theme.
  • To slow down: To feel that there is no rush. That there is no need to achieve. They need enough time to explore, try out, play and get absorbed in a task. They need enough time to achieve a single minded focus. That means being able to forget everything happening around them. Even to forget themselves.
  • Imagination. Children are naturally creative. Being curious, they can spend hours observing an insect, or a toy. Then without effort, their imagination takes over. They turn buckets of sand into castles, or create action adventures using a few toys. As facilitators we try to entice a team to reconnect with their childhood imagination. We do this by:
    • right-brainUsing right-brained activities that encourage a team to do rather than to think or analyze. This includes drawing, acting, singing, and creating or producing something.You will find creative right brain activities you can use in the OD interventions library.
    • Providing toys that remind them of a carefree time when they were children. Balloons, crayons, large sheets of paper, finger paints, and acting props will encourage a sense of playfulness - which in turn will promote imagination.
    • Choosing a tranquil venue which is conducive to creative thinking. This means a large room - with space for people to work/play either at tables, or better still - to kick off their shoes and work on the floor. Working and playing out doors in nature, are even better for stimulating creativity.
    • Creating a spirit of fun and laughter. The group should feel that they can do or say anything - and that it is okay to be a little crazy. This allows them to take the risk of suggesting ideas that break existing paradigms.
    • Being simple. Imagination and inspiration love simplicity. So, ask questions in simple English. Break complex tasks down into a number of easy to do activities. Get rid of all technology that reminds a group of multi-tasking behaviors. Give the group crayons, acting props and paper and encourage them to have fun, while they complete a task.
  • Self belief. Most people don't believe that they are creative. Show them that they are creative by giving them right brained activities, and encouraging them to act a little crazy. Reflect back to them the creative ideas that they produced while they were playing, and having fun. They will be delighted by their own ability to be creative.

4. Ask the right questions.

Innovation is more than just creativity. We need our groups to be imaginative in a way that helps them to create ideas that will meet the criteria they will be judged on. This means creating questions and activities that will help the group to develop innovative ideas - and then allowing them to answer these questions using right brained, creative techniques.

Examples of questions that encourage innovation in a department, branch or organization include:

  • What strengths do we have in our team, department or organization? How can we use these strengths to create new products or services for our customers?
  • What is changing in the world outside or our organization? How will these changes affect our customers? How can we use these changes to:
    • Create new products or services?
    • Add a service to a product?
    • Add a product to a service?
    • Customise a product?
    • Make it easier for a customer to do business with us?
  • In terms of our products and services how can we:
    • Add?
    • Outsource?
    • Combine?
    • Find other uses?
    • Change the packaging?
    • Change the shape?
    • Change the size?
    • Make it fun/easy to buy and use?
  • What doesn’t work for us any more? What should we do about it?
  • What do we need to do to get the passion back into our work??
  • Imagine it a date five years into the future. Imagine you are a future customer of your organization. Act out in a play why it is a pleasure doing business with your organization.
  • Create your own list of questions that will enable you to see the products, services and processes of your department or organization -in a new light.

Provide a group with focus, new knowledge, a climate that encourages creative thinking, and carefully designed activities and questions -and you and your team will be amazed at how innovative they can be in the workplace.

You may also like:

  • facilitator-cardsPowerful Facilitation cards A set of team activities to choose from to use when working with a team. Choose activities from the "create fun and energy cards" to stimulate innovation in your team.
  • Strategic Trends on-line research & cardsUp-to-date research on the latest strategic trends: Political, social, economic, technological and business trends. Trend research presented in colourful on-line cards makes it easy for your group to come up with innovative ideas.

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