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Your Next Great Idea is Just 1000 Bad Ones Away
September 18, 2018 |

We have all faced the dread of that moment. The one where you stare at a blank page, and you have no idea how you are going to fill it with a great idea. The secret of course, is that no one fills it with a great idea on their first try. It takes a lot of bad ideas to get to a good one. The good news is that everyone is in the same boat, and with a little discipline, and open mind, and a lot of practice, you can shun imposter syndrome and self-doubt to deliver on killer ideas.

It’s easy for people to see an amazing finished product and say wow, they’re so talented, it must come so easily to them. But what is not seen is actually where most of the work gets done.

Every good idea and execution you see leaves in its wake a trail of tossed away ideas, early iterations, and wild brainstorms.

The process of coming up with and feverishly throwing away ideas is critical for landing with a great polished outcome. It is likely that the more polished and natural an outcome feels, the more carnage there is in its production. And if that is not the case, if the idea came easily, you probably picked the low hanging fruit, and you stopped the creative process before you could get to the really great ideas.

When John Cartier, Phase2 Project Manager and Frank Febbraro, CTO spoke at our annual all-hands conference this year, we provided some strategies to get past the blank page, engage your creative capabilities, and get past the obvious to true innovation. A few of those strategies that we explain in the podcast include:

  • Understanding why your brain is lazy and how to make it work for you

  • Brainstorming techniques that span your personal and professional life

  • Learning the power of navigating fluidly between convergent and divergent thinking

  • Building your company culture to support innovative thinking


Divergent Thinking Workshop

With our clients and with our internal teams, we love to do an exercise we call “The Picnic” that illustrates how to arrive at innovation through divergent thinking, and we would like to share that exercise with you. You can use this format and run the exercise with your team. We would love to hear how it goes!

The Picnic


  • Team: Get together with a group of people, and split into teams of 2-4. It is also okay to do this exercise in teams of 1!

  • Supplies: Everyone will need paper, a writing instrument, and a bit of room for boisterous conversation


The Exercise

Round 1 - The Baseline

Scenario: You are throwing a picnic for someone you love and want to impress. Think about who that person is and agree on it as a group. For this picnic, you get to bring 5 things that make your perfect picnic.

Activity: Spend about 2 minutes coming up with your five things and write them down. Compare with the other teams and see what they are bringing to their picnic.

Discuss: What kinds of things did you bring? Any unusual items? Any repeated items between different teams? What did the exercise feel like for your brain - was it difficult, easy?


Round 2 - Divergent Thinking Time

Scenario: As it turns out, this picnic is REALLY important, and your budget just got a lot bigger. You absolutely have to impress your picnic guest.

Activity: Take 10 minutes and come up with an additional 20 things you could bring to your picnic.

Discuss: How is your list of 20 different from your list of 5? What were the feelings and process your brain went through to come up with all the new ideas? Did the other teams come up with any of the same ideas you did?


Round 3 - Time to Converge

Scenario: Okay, okay. It’s a picnic, not a wedding. Let’s get realistic and narrow down your list of 25 things to the ones you really need to create a great experience.

Activity: Take 5 minutes to narrow down your list to 5 most important items for your picnic. Compare with the other teams and see what they decided on for their picnic.

Discuss: How does your final list of 5 compare to your original list? Which will provide the better experience and which is more innovative? What differences did you notice in your process between Round 2 and Round 3? Was one round more comfortable for you than the other?


Bonus Round - Constraints!

Scenario: Oh no, THUNDERSTORM! From nowhere, it has started to rain and thunder. Your guest is arriving in 15 minutes, and you have to save the picnic and still provide an amazing experience. You have no way to get inside, and the closest Lyft is an hour away, so you are going to have to make it work. In addition to the 5 items you selected in Round 3, your picnic is set up on a hill overlooking a lake. There is a big (but bare) tree a few hundred yards away, and it has a tire swing hanging from it.  

Activity: Spend 10 minutes planning how you are going to save your picnic. Compare your solution with the other teams.

Discuss: Did any of your 5 items account for the possibility of this complication? How did your perception and the possibilities of your 5 items and environment change when you needed to use them to accomplish a different goal? How did the bonus round feel for your brain compared to the rest of the exercise? Did you save your picnic? Did you improve it?

From the Picnic to Your Work

When we did this exercise with our team, we watched the quality of the ideas - innovation, novelty, and variety - improve dramatically. This divergent thinking tool showed us how just moving from 5 ideas to 25 made a huge difference, and this is true of any divergent ideation process. Working in the picnic exercise is a good way to practice before bringing it into your work. Give it a try with your team, and let us know how it goes! @phase2

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