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Global Flipchart

December 2016
| Issue #6

Ideas are not enough: Facilitating innovation with impact

By Tamara Eberle, CPF, CTF. Tamara is a Platinum winner of the 2016 Facilitation Impact Awards


As facilitators, an essential part of what we do is help people generate ideas, and when we are asked to help our clients “innovate” we really have to step up the creativity to get them to think in new and different ways. There are so many fantastic creative thinking techniques that can be really effective – random word, polarity thinking, looking at the problem from a different profession, scaling the problem etc.

But many people get frustrated when they have brainstorming events and, although they fill the room with sticky notes covered in creative ideas, the ideas stay on the wall and in the room and never get implemented (even if they had committed to doing them). When we understand that innovation is more than just creativity -- it is creativity in action -- then we can really help our groups make their inspired ideas real.

So what about an action plan? Wait! Not so fast, there is a middle step first.

The key to facilitating innovation with impact is to make sure we run the ideas through some CRITICAL thinking processes before we start whipping out the calendars and the “who-is-going-to-do-what-by-when?” questions.

Once the idea is born, it is our job to help the group think analytically about their idea to prepare it for implementation. In the same way that we would rarely just throw a seed on the ground and expect it to grow, we can’t expect ideas to just happen (even with an action plan). Rather, we choose where we will plant, prepare the earth, turn it over, and make sure it is planted properly.

We need to do the same with the ideas. To test feasibility and prepare for implementation we ask critical questions like: To what extent does this align with organisational goals? What capacity does the group have to implement this? What risks might there be? What kind of response can be expected from stakeholders? Is there a “market” for this (internally or externally)? And what are the benefits and consequences of moving forward with this?

This kind of thinking helps the group be sure the idea is ready for action and allows them to refine it and make it even better. It also gives them fodder for pitching their idea and presenting why it is so awesome – something that is especially helpful if they need others to support it.

To help our groups be innovative, WE have to be innovative in the processes we design for them. Sticky notes are a great tool for capturing and sorting ideas, but we need to push ourselves to develop new tools for innovative thinking. This can include having people build models, produce art, play games, and create and tell stories, to name just a few. Groups should walk into the room and feel like they are going to have a new kind of thinking experience.