In the world of digital transformation consulting nothing is more exciting for senior resources than taking part in an ideation session. Taking the time to learn about a new organization, how they do business, understanding the competitive landscape of their industry, seeing what IM/IT assets they have to work with, and helping them discover opportunities to digitally transform how they do business (in even small ways sometimes) is something these people are passionate about. While I have read many articles about ideation, few have covered the points I’ll make in this blog post, and none have ever used key concepts of speed dating to help make their point.
A very close friend of mine had been single for a long time, and she really didn’t want to be. Over the years I had seen her try online dating, blind dates, matching companies, and countless other services. As open-minded and kind as she was, like all of us, she had hang-ups about certain things, knew it, but still wasted a lot of time meeting new people only to find out they were not the right person. Eventually she came across a speed-dating service. From what I understand, this service started with a general idea of who was compatible with who based on profiling, then lined them up, and had them go on a series of 10-minute highly-structured first dates where people got to know each other without having to worry about a given set of known criteria. If memory serves me, she had 18 dates in a little over 3 hours, met the guy she eventually married, and that was that.
This concept intrigued me. None of these services existed when I was a single young man, or I was not aware of them. My friend literally wasted years exploring potential relationships only to have one thing or another prove them to be the wrong fit. During my career in digital transformation consulting I have been involved in many ideation sessions, and have seen some ideas turn into monumental outcomes, while others developed into a colossal waste of time, energy, and money. Over time my colleagues and I learned that the expression “no idea is too crazy” is not exactly right. In the world of digital transformation there are basic truths related to privacy, security, the technically possible, maintainability, user experience, and many others. An idea may sound great, teams of people can spend tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars developing it further, only to find out that there is a privacy catch that makes it impossible to ever put into production, or some magical app required to make it become a reality costs millions of dollars to make work rather than tens of thousands.
In our organization we have a group of four senior consultants that I would want in a room if I were running an ideation session related to digital transformation, and time and money were no object. All four of them have solid knowledge in the areas of cyber-security, privacy, information management, information technology infrastructure, digital identity, application architecture, user experience, the concept of baking quality into the agile development process, ongoing stakeholder-driven digital service improvement, and countless other things. One of them is extremely dynamic, creative, and can keep a room engaged and participating like nobody else. Another has a near-magical ability to hear an idea and almost instantly conceptualize the information management implications of making it real. A third consultant is a master transformation architect with highly-developed skill in estimating the time and cost of turning an idea into a deployed service. The fourth consultant is a cyber-security and privacy guru who constantly injects themself into the discussion as ideas develop, keeping everybody out of trouble with compliance auditors should they ever become a real working thing. Not every customer can have all four all the time for every ideation session because budgets and / or schedules don’t always align. That said, each one has enough of the knowledge and capabilities of the other three, that any one (but preferably two) of them can handle nearly any session with the utmost customer satisfaction.
One of the principals of an ideation session is to discourage judgement and over-analysis. It is extremely important to not stifle creativity, but in today’s ultra-practical world, time and money are tracked so much that there are people who do nothing but that. Like with speed-dating, it is important that ideas get developed with as many critical success factors as possible built in and having the right people in the room will go a long way in ensuring this. For example, an idea for a new app that solves a particular business problem may not be at the conceptual architecture stage after an ideation session, but it is possible for it not to have any glaring privacy issues, be potentially able to run in the organization’s technical infrastructure, have access to the right data sources, be something that users would entertain taking advantage of, and the cost of building it could be within reach of the line-of-business’s budget.
Being in the business of selling digital transformation consulting services, I’m inclined to recommend organizations have outside help (such as Becker-Carroll) in the room for any ideation session. Someone less likely to have their thought process dominated by the pre-conceived notions of the organization’s legal / compliance / CIO / CFO / CSO people. In fairness, like line of business owners, these people are professionals and almost always want what’s best for the organization. If open-minded, they can provide invaluable input to the (sometimes very short) life-cycle of developing ideas and should be represented at all ideation sessions if possible.
As with speed dating, make sure your ideas are realistic, spend some time evolving then evaluating them. If they make sense, rinse and repeat until they stop making sense, then move on the next idea.