How To Do Remote Ideation Right

Some folks are having a tough time ideating remotely, but if you ask me, in some situations, it works better.

I’ve blogged before how, during ideation sessions, its essential to be inclusive of all types of personalities – in the same way, teachers need to be mindful that many individuals learn differently (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), many ideate in different ways as well.

For example, look at the difference between introverted and extroverted attendees. You need to provide a safe space for both types. Many typical ideation sessions only seem to play to the strengths of the extrovert. Recent examples that I’ve seen of best practices in brainstorming show the participants standing at a board, shouting out their ideas, rapidly writing them on sticky notes, and slapping them on the board. While this is an excellent environment for those who have no issue in a loud group, this might be a problem for the introverts in the room. You may not get the participation you expect.

Another example: design thinking brainstorms with the entire team in the room – including management. For political reasons, you may not get the best, most interesting, most disruptive ideas out of the group of folks in the room are afraid of presenting something the boss might like.

In one ideation session I held, one of the engineers was so annoyed by the multiple layers of management within his organization that his fundamental idea from the meeting was “fire all middle-management!” While he may have been the most vocal about it – it’s unknown how many of the rest of the team felt that was an issue – no doubt, there were likely many others who might have been afraid to speak up due to fear of reprisal.

This lockdown has driven us to use remote design thinking brainstorms to ideate instead. This immediately provides a better opportunity for both introverts and those afraid of reprisals for ideas too far out of the box to contemplate also to have their voices heard.

Depending on the client, we use various tools – typically its a Google drawing board, or in a situation where more security is required, we can even use a shared Word doc. You hold the session like any other, but you carve out some time for both individual quiet ideation – as well as group ideation. Allowing both the introverts and the extroverts to contribute remotely evens out the playing field – the extroverts and loudly proclaim their ideas as they fill out their online sticky note. In contrast, the introverts can just quietly type them out.

If the shouting extroverts are too distracting, the introverts can even mute them during the session. That covers the introverts. For those afraid of management reprisal, we’ve found that anonymous submission works well. Allow people to contribute ideas anonymously (maybe by allowing them to change colors to their selected color – for example – my sticky note color might be blue, and others purple or yellow, but those who wish to their ideas anonymously could use grey.

This makes remote sessions much more inclusive than the in-person meetings, which may lead to better ideas. Individuals who may not be able to travel to your design thinking brainstorming locations due to budget can finally be able to attend and contribute.

I vividly recall an incident where we ran an excellent old-fashioned design thinking brainstorming session over the phone with a remote office. During our 1 hour session, the folks in that office generated more exciting ideas than five sessions internal to the client’s headquarters. Being in the field and closer to the customers gave them a different, more useful perspective, which significantly improved the company’s value once the ideas were filtered and implemented.