Ideation and the “Yes, and” Mindset

27.03.2018 |

Episode #6 of the course Introduction to design thinking by Lee-Sean Huang


Yesterday, we met our user, Rob, who needed a quieter and more private airport experience. We covered ways to define and frame the problem and arrived at a creative brief, comprised of a user profile and HMW question. Today, we will move on to the Ideate phase of DT.


The “Yes, and” Mindset

While Define required us to be prickly to narrow down the context of our design process, the Ideate phase will require us to be pliant again. In addition to the metaphor of the pliant and prickly blowfish, we can also think in terms of “Yes, and” and “No, but.”

“Yes, and” is a mindset borrowed from theatrical improvisation. Performers who are improvising need to just go with the flow of their fellow performer’s choices. That means working with the material that you are given, no matter how unusual, and adding your own twist to connect with the audience.

“No, but” is the opposite. It means being a wet blanket and saying “no” to ideas, no matter how early stage they are. For example:

“Oh, that will never work from a technical standpoint.”

“Don’t bother. Our boss and the legal department will never approve that.”

These may be legitimate concerns, but the point is that they will be given their place later in the process. Sometimes, completely wild ideas can inspire more practical but unexpected solutions. Stay pliant.


Group Ideation Techniques

Ideation is usually a team sport. Assemble a diverse team. Share the creative brief. Encourage them to be pliant and open minded. Tap into the power of “Yes, and” to build on each other’s ideas. Go for quantity rather than quality at this point.

Take time to set the scene for creativity. Have everybody stand up during Ideation. This helps people be more dynamic and energetic. To make it easier to organize and evaluate ideas later, make sure everybody has a stack of notecards or sticky notes—one card per idea. Name your ideas, give them a short description, and complement them with a simple icon or sketch when appropriate. Playing upbeat music helps, although some people may prefer an all-instrumental playlist so as to not get distracted by lyrics.

Ideate in short, high-energy sprints lasting 20 to 30 minutes at a time. If you need more or better ideas, you can always run another Ideation sprint. Make sure participants are well fed, hydrated, and (optionally) caffeinated. Providing some other beverages and snacks can also help get participants relaxed and in the creative zone.


How Might We Ideate for Rob’s Needs

Let’s get back to the creative brief that we created for our user, Rob, yesterday. The HMW question is: “How might we design a post-security check airport experience that provides customers with tranquility and privacy?”

Imagine we are a group working on ideas to address this question. We might start with the obvious ideas and build on them to get more and more innovative. Remember that we are documenting these ideas on sticky notes as we come up with them.

“How about privacy pods for passengers to take calls? Like a hybrid phone booth/rest booth?”

“Like a vending machine? Passengers can pay to use them.”

“You can pre-book a rest pod using a mobile app, so you know you definitely will have a space.”

“Or could the booth be a cocoon or sleeping bag thing? Something soft.”

“Or maybe we don’t need to do anything architectural. How about noise-cancelling headphones paired with a privacy hood or screen or something. You could enjoy VR, take a call, or just take a nap.”

There are some potentially good ideas and some potentially problematic ideas here. Now isn’t the time to evaluate. The group can continue building off of each other in a stream-of-consciousness way until the end of the sprint.

If you get stuck, you can always introduce some wildcards to get things going again:

• How would Elon Musk/Beyoncé/Black Panther solve this?

• What if we had unlimited budget or magic?

Ideation is often the most fun part of Design Thinking. Go with the flow and don’t be afraid to be ridiculous. Go out and convening a group to Ideate together.

Tomorrow, we will talk about how to narrow down and select from a big list of ideas generated by our group Ideation sprints.


Recommended book

Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation by Robert I. Sutton


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