Challenges to provoke ideas

Challenges are a powerful tool to provoke ideas. They don’t have to be, but they are generally questions. Here are some examples to help you. If you need more information or help, or course, contact me via the Contact form. Some challenges need some kind of facilitation – not necessarily professional facilitation. Others actually trigger a dialogue rather than necessarily ideas. Diversity is key, but the more diverse, prepare to offer a reward.

Generally speaking, the more creative the challenge, the more creative the ideas so it is really worth doing.

Provocations can work in a number of ways, but if you can, use them to surprise us or jolt us into an emotional state.


















Or ask questions. I would suggest this is one of the first questions you ask – and definitely the middle managers before you start any innovation activity. The wording here is essential “How can we can secure” We’re not leaving any doubt that we WILL SECURE time, it’s how. The word SECURE is important. It’s not FIND. Finding suggests some doubt or uncertainty. SECURE suggests value.
















This is a photo of someone’s desk. The question is, “how will it change”

















Or use humour to provoke ideas

















This is an example of one where you need some facilitation – that doesn’t need to be professional ‘innovation’ facilitation – it could be that Managers talk about it in their team meetings, but it needs some instruction and direction because for some thinking about leaving their comfort zone takes them out of the comfort zone!

















This one was very much inspired by what Aldi and Lidl have managed to do in disrupting the supermarket business over the last few years – not only is it OK to admit to shopping at a discount supermarket, it’s common dinner party discussion. This Challenge seeks ideas or stories that would provoke someone to talk about your business or service at a dinner party.

















We can also provoke ideas about a business model change. So, software used to come in a box, now it comes as a Service. Music and films used to come in a box from a shop, now it comes through streaming services. What could our business model be if it was offered as a service?

















This can be a telling provocation. It’s not necessarily going to get ideas, but the insights could be invaluable.
















Again, the emphasis is important. It’s not how can WE be more successful, it’s how can we make OUR CUSTOMERS more successful
















If you’re going to innovate to solve a problem, make it a meaningful problem
















Lastly, an exercise you can workshop.















Ask the group to think of their favourite;



-Car manufacturer


-Holiday resort

Then list the things you love about them

Next, underline the things that could be adopted by your business and share with the group


Constraints can breed creativity

“When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.” – T.S. Eliot

Creativity and constraint are, at first glance, opposites, however there is a lot of truth in the fact that the tighter the brief – the more constrained you are, the more creative we can be.

One of the best examples of this is the photosharing service Instagram. For those that are not familiar with it, it’s one of those internet phenomenons where it’s easy to say “so what” because it’s simply a mobile app that has a bunch of filters and tools that you can apply to photos that you take with your mobile. That’s it (btw. facebook bought Instagram for a reported $500m earlier this year).

Here’s an example. On the left is a photo from my iphone, (my Son’s shirt, not mine!) and the same photo through the Instagram app.


It still isn’t the best photo in the World, but that’s not the point, the point is that although there would have been an infinite number of ways of improving the photo that I took with my iphone, I have neither the patience, talent or tools, so for me restricting the choice from infinite to 16 filters offers me the opportunity improve the photo immeasurably. (if you are interested, here’s a link to some truly amazing Instagram photos)

We can apply this to ideation. If the challenge is too broad it can actually inhibit creativity. The best challenges (a challenge being a call to action) give boundaries, purpose and a framework.

An example I often use in ideation workshops compares a challenge to;

a) create a new ready-meal (ie. the World’s your oyster) OR

b) create a new meal that that offers the consumer the convenience of a ready-meal, BUT differentiates itself from the other choices on the shelf by being fresh and devoid of preservatives and additives. All of a sudden the World of opportunities has narrowed significantly, but there is a really clear objective to work with