The Anatomy of an Ideation Lab

If you're anything like me, you might find the word "ideation" intimidating. What is it anyway? And "ideation lab?" I know most of us haven't had to set foot in a lab since high school or maybe college. What are we getting ourselves into here?

No need to panic, you don't need to dust off your beakers and test tubes for this. Think of it as a better brainstorming session and you've basically got it.

As defined by the Design Thinking industry, ideation is a process that is more than just brainstorming. It is more acute, more process oriented, and seems geared to get much better results when handled well.

To help us at Pivot NW get off the ground, we hired a consultant to help us design a process based on royalty-free concepts. This way, we can share the process with the Church in the hope that individual congregations find a straighter path toward discovering how to offer better hospitality to the young adults who might darken their doors. Here is a description of the process, with some explanation of the hoped-for-outcomes behind the steps.

Click here for a PDF of the packet we walk through when we do Ideation Labs. 

My POV: This exercise is a good temperature-taker. It helps participants crystallize their identity right then and there on the day of the lab. One useful part of this exercise is that it grounds people in their quite varied identities, and in the inherent contradictions that might exist. Sharing it with a table partner or with a small group of 2-3 others helps build empathy on which the rest of the process will lean.

What will you get?: It's important to help the group see everyone as a contributor. This is not a group project where only one voice is heard or one person does a majority of the work.

Methods and mindset: This is a process designed to get a specific result, not a haphazard thinking session. Also, the byproducts are relationship building and better empathy. You will leave this process knowing people better.

Mindset walking: These two slides help you to continue building empathy, to embody the process (walking) so it is less cerebral, to honor the tensions and feelings that people bring into the room, and to recognize the different giftedness of the diverse participants.

Sharing your church story with a partner: This is another empathy exercise with a few prompts. Sharing it with someone and asking them to take notes, sketch, and/or find another way to retell your story is a stretch both for the listener and the teller. How do you surrender your story to another and how does that feel? How does it feel to be put on the spot to tell someone else's story? What do you realize about your own story when someone else tells it?

So far, a lot of this process focuses on building empathy. Another major theme in this early part of the process that remains present throughout is the concept of lament. This process will redistribute power, lay bare assumptions and hopes unrealized, and require a recommitment to both the people doing the lab with you and the community the lab seeks to bless. This is both a wonderfully synergistic process and one that can make an indelible mark.

Describing Design: Many different metaphors can be used to describe design, but the one we use is a rhythm of Divergence and Convergence, or that same process with synthesis and analysis as intermediary steps. This is a simpler version of what you might find in the marketplace of Design Thinking, but we think it is appropriate to our approach. It's based on the free model out of Stanford Design School.

Brain-writing: This gets various thoughts and ideas out of people's heads and onto the table.

Categorization: This helps the group understand the relationship between their various ideas, as well as the relationship of resources needed to allow these ideas to take shape.

Prioritization or synthesis: What concept pulls most at the group?

Typical Next Steps: What is next in the process and how might the process be revisited to create new ideas or to integrate new voices?

Debrief: Discuss how the process went. What was good, what was hard, what remains unanswered?