I am a runner. Living in the frigid Midwest, that at times means hunting down a treadmill to put in my miles for the day.
While traveling over the New Year holiday, I headed to the local YMCA, guessing how packed the gym would be on Jan. 1. Every year people make resolutions—and that typically means the gym is not nearly as packed on March 1 as it is on Jan. 1.
New habits are hard to create. We observe something similar with credit unions as we work to teach them the Filene Method of Innovation, born out of our i3 program (Ideas, Innovation, Implementation).
Over the last two years, we have worked with more than 23 credit unions and system organizations to help them grow their culture of innovation through our innovation programs.
This includes an “Innovation Immersion,” where we spend a day or so in an experiential learning session teaching a group of credit union team members the methodology and having them practice the methodology.
When we ask these team members to tell us about their ideation, or brainstorming, process, it often involves a large room with talented people around a table.
The leader comes in and says, “We have a really big problem. How can we solve it?”
One or two individuals raise their hands with immediate ideas. Many others around the table avert eye contact hoping they can come up with something before they are called on.
Ideation is like exercise. It takes practice. Different techniques work better than others.
It also takes discipline, and having a few rules to follow can help.
During our innovation immersions, we often assign a “Chief Rules Officer” to each team. This person helps the group remember to avoid judging one another, stops people from saying “yeah but,” and helps create an environment that is welcoming to all ideas—even those that are a little strange.
During your credit union’s next brainstorming session, try these six approaches to build your ideation muscles and make this process even more successful:
1. Remove constraints. We often worry about the budget or the systems we have in place and it limits our thinking about what we could do.
Ask what you’d do if you had unlimited means? If money or technology or regulation weren’t considerations, what kinds of ideas could you develop?
Give your team permission to go “wild.” You can constrain your ideas later. Removing boundaries can help broaden your view of the possibilities.
2. Determine how another company would solve your problem. If Walmart were facing your problem, what solution would it implement? If a Silicon Valley start-up faced your problem, what ideas might it have?
Think of the business models and frameworks of other organizations and consider how they might approach your problem. It might open up a new world of ideas.
3. Set audacious goals. How many new ideas do you want to come up with? Especially with a talented and competitive team, letting the group know that you want at least 50 ideas in an hour can spark even more creativity.
Once we see all the ideas, maybe no one idea will be the winner on its own—but three together might form something incredible.
4. Change the environment. If your boardroom or meeting room is where you usually get together to ideate, take the team to an art museum. Spend an hour looking at exhibits and then get together in the cafeteria to brainstorm.
If you must meet in your typical space, bring in Legos and invite everyone to wear jeans and remove their shoes. Small environmental changes can make a big difference in growing a volume of ideas.
5. Write it down. Make sure every single idea gets captured on a sticky note—even those you might think are small or too silly. Place each sticky note on a wall or whiteboard.
Once you have a larger volume of ideas, you can move the sticky notes around to organize ideas and put together a few ideas that might work more effectively together.
6. Practice, practice, practice. Just like with exercise, the first brainstorming session might be painful. As you use new muscles, it might feel silly and you may not be successful.
However, as you make time to ideate and become stronger at growing ideas, you and your team will see that sticking with an ideation process will make your credit union even healthier and provide even better solutions for your members.
Ideation: Make growing this muscle your credit union’s commitment that you stick with all year long.