How to generate 72 ideas in 7 minutes

Some parts of the Design Thinking process can be used independently of the rest. One stage that you can use independently is Ideation. When everyone else is too busy and can’t directly contribute to the overall project for a continuously long period, ask for 5 to 10 minutes of their time and engage them in an Ideation activity, under Design Thinking rules (see below).

We did this recently with a group of four 14 year olds at The Failure School and they generated 72 ideas in 7 minutes, which is a new record for me and despite challenging several cohorts of adults in our corporate Design Thinking workshops to beat them, no adult team has come close.

This hints at a deeper problem of seemingly (but not really) losing creativity as we get older, though we’ll save that discussion for a future blog post. Ask a group of 14-year-olds if they feel creative and everyone raises their hands; ask a group of adults the same question and the results are less convincing.

You can’t just put four 14 year olds in a room and tell them to have ideas though. It doesn’t work like that. You have to create the right mental space, give them the right tools, make sure they follow specific rules and make sure they understand what the topic is that they’re ideating on.

So here’s what we did with the kids and also what we do with adults:

  1. Make sure everyone has the right tools: A sharpie and a stack of sticky notes
  2. Explain the practical rules:
  3. When you have an idea, sketch it on a sticky note.
  4. Place it in the middle of the group or on the wall if you’re doing it standing.
  5. Briefly explain your idea (no more than just a few seconds).
  6. Explain the other rules:
  7. The goal is to generate as many ideas as possible.
  8. Focus on quantity over quality.
  9. Be visual when explaining your idea on the sticky note – fewer words, more sketches.
  10. No-one is allowed to judge the ideas during the ideation (that comes after).
  11. Use the improv phrase “Yes, and…” when you hear an idea. “Yes” helps you accept what the person has says and “and” helps you expand on that line of thinking.
  12. Explain the problem we’re trying to solve:
  13. The goal of the meeting is to generate ideas for a specific problem. In advance of the meeting, you should have prepared enough information to have your team understand the problem – whose problem is it? How are they experiencing it right now? Why is it a problem for them? You might have prepared personas, journey maps and results of any research you’ve done.
  14. We’ll need something to help us also focus the ideation session too. A ‘How Might We’ (HMW) question is great for that, e.g. one from The Failure School that the kids came up with was ‘How might we engage disengaged employees at [company name]?’. Here’s a great explainer on HMWs from the d.School.
  15. Set the timer, make sure everyone can see it and get started! As the facilitator, make sure you remind the participants how much time they have left at regular interviews. I also find it useful to remind them that four 14 year olds generated 72 ideas in 7 minutes and challenge them to beat it!

We do this in our office a lot when we have a problem that needs as many ideas as possible. The team leading the project will bring the problem to the group and lead the session. It’s amazing how many ideas people who say they’re “not creative” can generate if you apply the rules above.

We usually invite everyone from sales, marketing, admin and operations to an ideation session to ensure we’re getting as wide an angle as possible on the problem. Everyone can contribute!

It doesn’t take long and as long as you have the problem well-defined with a How Might We statement, you only need 7 minutes to run the session so there’s no reason not to get started today!

If you’d like to learn more about this and other Design Thinking techniques, you might be interested in our next Design Thinking public training happening on July 20th in Makati.

Try out this technique and please let me know how you get on!

Phil Smithson