It’s not only what tools you use, but how you use them
It’s not only what tools you use, but how you use them
May 21, 2023
When you work with a team on an innovation project case, what matters is not only what kind of thinking tool you use when in the innovation process. To do sound thinking and produce adequate outputs, it also matters how exactly you use the tool — or in other words: how you communicate and interact with other team members while applying a particular tool, and how you capture outputs. Today, let’s learn more about the different communication styles that you can use while working on an innovation project.
Background: The problem with “brainstorming”
When hearing the words “creativity” and “innovation”, many businesspeople automatically think of another word: brainstorming. Unsurprisingly, they also indiscriminately use this word while working on an innovation case, such as: “We need to brainstorm for ideas”, or “Let’s brainstorm what we know about our case”.
While applying a particular thinking tool, however, you may alternatively use a range of other —and often better— communication styles.
Why shouldn’t you always simply “brainstorm” for outputs with your team?
Using a variety of communication styles has the following benefits:
For one, it often can help teams to noticeably enhance the quantity and quality of their outputs.
For two, going beyond “brainstorming” for ideas or outputs is also an effective way to circumvent intercultural issues like ‘saving face’ or ‘respecting seniority or authority.’
For three, varying communication styles can also enhance the levels of fun and enjoyment of an innovation session for the various team members who often differ in their personality and preferred cognitive styles.
For example, while the more social and extraverted types enjoy “brainstorming”, the more theoretical and private types tend to prefer —and contribute more and better outputs— less dynamic and more well-structured interaction styles. Apart from “brainstorming” for ideas or outputs in a group, you may also fall back on other innovation communication styles depending on the cognitive styles of the different team members and the nature of the thinking tools you intend to use. For example, we may do solo-brainwriting or pool-brainwriting, enjoy a round of buddystorming or brainstorming, among others.
Variables to decide on while applying thinking tools:
Say you’re an innovation facilitator who’s guiding an innovation team through the application of one particular thinking tool. Apart from setting the time available for the exercise and ideally a target output quota, you also have to decide on the following variables with regards to the precise application of the tool by a team:
Team member split: Do we apply this tool by working with the whole team, in pairs or individually?
Feedback: Do we apply a thinking tool so that the output of other team members may stimulate a delegate while producing more outputs (feedback), or do we use it without feedback? e.g., when you exchange idea worksheets, you may read one idea that inspires a new one.
Rotation: If various tools are used in parallel by a group of participants, do we rotate the participants working on a specific tool after some time so that they can add to the input of other participants who prior worked on this thinking tool? Or do we keep the work groups static?
Output capturing: How do you capture outputs? For example, do you write ideas on a flip- chart, blank paper sheets, Post-it notes, worksheets? Do you have one person writing down the outputs for the group, or is everyone writing and producing outputs in parallel? Repetition: Do we apply the tool in one go (which is the norm), or do we allow for multiple rounds?
What innovation communication styles do we distinguish?
When an innovation team works on an innovation case, they have the following options to apply a thinking tool within a certain stage of an innovation process method:
This is the default way of how most teams typically apply a particular thinking tool, especially a creativity tool. The team works together as a whole group to produce the desired outputs (e.g., ideas). Thereby, each team member can freely —and without any formal order— suggest thoughts and ideas, which are recorded by at least one person on a paper sheet, a flip-chart or a whiteboard.
Round Robin Brainstorming
Sitting at a table or in a circle with your team, you go around and share a thought or idea one by one. Once one round is completed, you start again with the first person and continue going around; when it’s their turn, team members may say “I pass” if they need more time to think (or temporarily go blank). Just as with brainstorming, make sure to have one person to record the comments or ideas.
As a group, enact a role play where you use your bodies to check out or act out a value offering or subject under investigation, such as boarding an airplane or queuing options for immigration checks at airports. As s bodystormer, loudly communicate your experiences and feelings, which are recorded by one team member.
Pair up with your buddy (a newly befriended or already close team member), and work together on a tool to generate the desired outputs (which one of you may record on paper, worksheets or Post-it notes).
This communication style blends solo, pair, and teamwork. First, think: Work alone silently and note down your thoughts and ideas. Then, pair: Exchange your thoughts and ideas with a buddy. Finally, share: one by one, work through all the thoughts and ideas from each team member, which gives the team the chance to add more content. Make sure to consolidate the individual and pair outputs, or capture the outputs of the sharing session at the end.
Here, all team members silently work and think for themselves, and note down ideas and thoughts on paper sheets, worksheets or Post-it notes. As everyone works in parallel, the team typically produces a much higher output number in a given period of time compared to a team engaging in one of the “brainstorming” styles. Of course, Solo Brainwriting works also for a sole ideator, but it’s more communal doing it together with other ideators.
In this communication style, all team members silently work alongside each other in the group and produce outputs (e.g. raw ideas) or throughputs (e.g., associate inputs such as a Morphological Matrix) on flip-chart paper or on paper sheets.
Once again, all team members silently work and think in parallel as a group, but now they exchange the written ideas and thoughts (on worksheets or paper sheets) with their teammates, who then can piggyback on certain ideas or build on other’s thoughts.
Producing outstanding results in innovation projects is largely a numbers game. An innovation team needs to produce a certain number of outputs, say raw ideas or idea concepts, while working through the different stages of an innovation method to arrive at novel, original and meaningful innovation deliverables by the end of an innovation project. Even if you reach the target output quota, you don’t have a hundred percent certainty that you will always succeed in producing an innovation output that wows your target users.
However, your odds of success dramatically increase if you use an effective innovation process, select the thinking tools that fit the innovation type that you target with your innovation project, and then also have mastered the art of how to effectively use each tool within the context of the process method with regards to the key parameters (heads: team, solo, pair, small team, large team, or mixed?; feedback: with or without?; team dynamism: static or rotating? output recording: one for the group; several per group; or all individual?; interaction styles: brainstorming, round-robin brainstorming, buddystorming, bodystorming, think-pair-share, solo brainwriting, or pool brainwriting?).
So, facilitating innovation projects is both a science and an art.
This article is one of 64 sections of The Executive’s Guide to Innovation, a new book that I am currently working on (targeted for publication in 2Q.2019 by Motivational Press).