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Innovation & Design Thinking: 3 secrets to generate better ideas

You know I’m a big fan of design thinking. I’ve carried out many sessions and ideas have popped up that I’m sure, would never have come to mind with Design Thinking.

As you know Design Thinking is a real methodology that helps fuel creativity and pave the way to innovative ideas. The purpose of this post is certainly not to deal with the whole method here (there are excellent books and really good trainings to do that) but to deal with one phase in particular : ideation.

Ideation is the phase where, at the beginning of the innovation trajectory, as many ideas as possible must be generated to be filtered, refined, improved and turned into real business ideas afterwards.

After so many sessions I’d like to share with you 3 principles, 3 keys to make sure your ideation phase won’t fail.

Good participants

The first secret is to assemble a good group. Well actually a good group is not enough. You need an AMAZING group of people!

First of all you need the right number of people; second you need the right mix.

As far as the number of participants is concerned, 4 is too few, 15 is too many. The ideal number of participants when there is only one Design Thinking facilitator is 9. You need nine participants so that you can have 3 groups of three. Three participants in each group is great because the dynamics is much better than with two. Four is sometimes too many, leading to one participant in the group to participate less.

The profile of the participants is also important. If you do the Design Thinking session for an entrepreneurial venture, make sure you have no more than three members of the entrepreurial team (one in each group) and add 6 participants who have little or no knowledge of the project. Unbiased opinions and wild ideas are key. Participants MUST understand they should express their wildest ideas and that everything is possible. Don’t set limits.

Take time

Make sure you have enough time to do the Design Thinking session. Two days are a minimum to come to some tangible results. If you think you can have great ideas in 2 hours, you’re wrong. Very wrong actually.

During the first 2 hours the group will find its dynamics; participants in a group need to get used and trust each other and this takes time. I recently agreed to do a 4-hr ideation session (although I had explained in an earlier post that I won’t do it) and good ideas popped-up only in the last 2 hours. Unfortunately we had to kind of “kill” the dynamics after 4 hours although I’m sure we’d have had more and better ideas if we had continued.

Ideation is key and my recommendation is to take 6 to 8 hours for it (don’t forget to make breaks …).

Do your homework

Last week I had a meeting with the team of Simone a soif. Their project is to launch a new drink with original and natural recipes, yet with a low sugar content.

I was a little bit unsatisfied with their current packaging and challenged them to add more value and create something more attractive. I asked them to do a little bit of market research before the session and to come up with a selection of at least 10 packagings they considered innovative. They did their homework very well and came with dozens of examples. This in turn helped open their minds and led us to a concrete idea after just 2 hours of work.


Once again, here Is my recipe for a successful ideation phase in your next Design Thinking session : 3 groups of 3 people, coming from different horizons, free to express the wildest ideas and who have prepared the session. If you do that the odds of success will be higher.

If you want to know more about Design Thinking, or if you want some help to innovate and launch your next blockbuster, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We are here to help!

Picture: Raissa via Flickr
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Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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