The 4 Best Tips for Productive Ideation

Discover the best tips for conducting a productive ideation session to yield the best new ideas.

It was Abraham Maslow who first proposed the theory that all humans have certain essential needs to be met before we can reach our full potential as creative beings. When conducting an ideation session, you are expecting people to be their most imaginative, vulnerable, productive selves, which is no short order in the work place. However, with careful planning and thoughtful facilitation, you can ensure people feel safe and comfortable enough to think and speak freely. These four tips will help you to plan and lead a productive ideation session to yield the best new ideas.

Tip #1: Get Comfortable

No one will be motivated to let loose and share their craziest ideas when they aren’t comfortable. Start by asking participants to wear casual clothes that they can easily move around in, and make sure there’s snacks and beverages including plenty of water and coffee. You might even offer nostalgic candy like pixie sticks or jelly beans and set out toys that people can touch or throw such as a beach ball or silly putty to help people get in a playful mood.


Tip #2: Get to Know Each Other

As the facilitator, it’s up to you to set the tone for the day. Rather than being serious and expressing the need to come up with x number of amazing ideas, be enthusiastic and assure people they are here to have fun. Create a safe environment by asking people to leave their titles at the door, so everyone’s ideas are valued equally, from the VP to the intern. Encourage people to actively participate and to build onto ideas rather than shooting them down.

Start the session with a fun ice breaker, regardless of whether the participants are from different departments or work together closely every day.  The sooner you can get people to laugh with each other, the sooner they’ll feel connected to each other and more willing to listen and share.


Tip #3: Get Moving

Use a variety of exercises to generate ideas to cater to the variety of learning styles and personalities. Especially early in the morning or right after lunch, people are tired and it can be difficult to keep the energy up. Mixing things up with different mediums can help everyone to feel stimulated and productive throughout the session. Here’s a few examples:

  • Guided visualization
  • Shouting out ideas while someone scribes
  • Passing around post-it notes and adding to what the previous person wrote
  • Looking at or drawing pictures
  • Building models with pipe cleaners


Tip #4: Get Going

Generally, ideation sessions are best kept between three and six hours; any less time and people aren’t comfortable enough yet and too much time and people are spent. If you see that a certain exercise isn’t generating any ideas or you can feel the energy dwindling, don’t be afraid to move on to something else. Have extra activities planned as a backup and be ready with lots of open ended questions to help pull out more information.

Ideation sessions are not easy to lead, especially when people are uncomfortable, tired or bored. Encourage people to let their guards down by keeping the atmosphere upbeat and playful, keep the energy flowing with a variety of activities, and know when it’s time to call it a day. Keep these tips in mind when planning your next ideation session and prepare to be amazed at the number of great ideas your team can cook up. 

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