When converging after idea generation, think S.M.A.R.T.E.R.

From the desk of Laura Duguid, Qualitative Researcher & Innovation Specialist

A major misstep to be wary of after idea generation is rushing the convergence process. Like ideation, effective convergence – i.e. confluence that nets truly big ideas – requires planning, a broad-to-narrow approach, and time. To prevent throwing the baby out with the bath water, think S.M.A.R.T.E.R. with these simple steps to success:

Separate from ideation: It’s important to deliberately schedule separate time for convergence after the idea generation. This will give the narrowing process equally important billing to the ideation, and allow people time to refresh their brain power and shift gears mentally.  It’s also advisable to do convergence off-site. This will cultivate a mindset of mental freedom which in turn encourages participants to carefully consider more innovative ideas.

More than once: Unique ideas are fragile and require the careful consideration achieved through multiple levels of review, including: 1) Shortly after ideation with the goal being to keep at least twice as many ideas as you intend to take into testing, 2) after the ideas are fleshed out further into written concepts, and 3) a quantitative sort with the end-user. As always, the quant should be prefaced with qualitative communication checks to refine the testing stimulus. Refrain from eliminating ideas as a result of the qualitative – let the quant be the judge.

Appropriate convergence techniques: For the first convergence, consider having people vote on ideas privately to start (e.g. via a worksheet with all the ideas listed and boxes to check pursue, don’t pursue, and comments).  The facilitator can then review and cluster the votes, keeping the results blind. This approach mitigates confining groupthink, thereby encouraging more innovative idea choices. To push the envelope further, you can give voters a wildcard choice – that is, permission to select a “crazy” idea they have heart for regardless. At stage two convergence, after ideas have been fleshed out and written up, use a more refined approach that looks at the ideas against a more meticulous set of criteria.

Right people: The first convergence stage should include all those who participated in the ideation. At this point the ideas are in a raw state and may require some nurturing to gain momentum, i.e. further clarification/explanation. Additional, relevant parties are often a useful supplement to the later, more refined convergence process. They lend an outside perspective that often helps further illuminate pluses, minuses, and notable considerations. Also, cross-functional teams at every stage assures valuable, multidimensional assessment.

Time commitment: Be sure to schedule enough time to effectively converge. Fight the urge to short-shift the process in an effort to solely accommodate participant schedules. Also, allow for periodic breaks. Convergence is hard work, and brains need relief now and then to achieve optimal performance.

Explore before elimination: At all stages of convergence, before killing an idea, ask the team, “in what ways might we revise/change/recreate this idea to make it work?” Pursue solutions because the best ideas may very well be the worst ideas, simply changed.

Retain an outside facilitator: Using an outside professional to lead convergence assures unbiased direction, and allows all team members to focus on what they do best – lend their relevant expertise. Also, an experienced facilitator can efficiently negotiate differences of opinion, and keep the process moving forward.

The lightning-fast pace of business today presents undeniable challenges to establishing prescribed pause. But to truly innovate and come out on top, wise words from Leo Tolstoy sum it up best: The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.