What can we learn from education to make ideation workshops more productive?

We’ve probably all been in the situation where someone has caught us off-guard and asked, “any ideas”? For as confident that we might be that we ought to be able to come up with ideas, they’ve caught us off-guard, we feel totally un-prepared and our mind goes blank.

The next time you run an ideation session, assume that most of the people feel that way – they’re waiting for others to speak up first. It’s why, all too often, the last 15 minutes of a brainstorming session are the most productive – it’s where the magic seems to happen. The more ideas we see, the more triggers we have to help us, the more ideas we seem to have.

We can address this by borrowing from educational research into the different modes of learning. Educators have long recognized three broad learning modes which can help us run ideation workshops.  

Learning Mode
Features
Solution
Visual Learners
Some people need visual stimulations to unlock great ideas. Changing the scene, seeing colours, examples and pictures helps make connections. The more stimulation they see, the better their imaginations work.
So, rather start with an empty white-board, prepare a ‘mood board’ or post images on the walls or scatter flashcards on the tables in-front of them.
Auditory Lerners
Auditory people will need to have noise and conversation to be able to produce good ideas. Silence is a killer for creativity for these people. Most brainstorms are designed for auditory people – there’s every chance the boss that decided to have a brainstorm is an auditory person. It’s one of the many reasons why lots of people hate brainstorm sessions.
Although you might be keen to start capturing ideas, these people are likely to be able to need a pre-amble conversation to kick-start their creativity.
Kinesthetic Learners
This last ‘mode’ is perhaps the most under-used. Kinesthetic people will think best when their hands are engaged and doing something.
Kinesthetic people need to touch and feel things and be given the chance to process or throw things around in their mind to make sure it feels right. If you are looking, for example, for new packaging ideas, bring a selection of innovative packaging into the workshop for the kinesthetic learners or a scale model or prototype, or page through a magazine.They won’t give you quick ideas, they’re best off thinking things through overnight.
If you are reading this and there’s a aha moment – you’ve recognised which most closely matches how you feel the most creative and productive, that’s great. If you’re reading this because you facilitate brainstorming sessions, you need to be aware that you’re likely to have a mixture of ‘types’ in the workshop so you need to serve them all in order to get the best out of the session.

Use color, movement, interaction, conversation and combine all the learning modes together so as to ensure that everybody in the room is engaged with their particular style. This will boost the productivity of your workshops.