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Why Communication and Idea Generation are Best Buddies

Idea partners

Our introduction video explains how we partnered to combine proven tools from the product development world with a cutting edge communication methodology to create the Hidden Solutions programme, a process that maximises the creative potential of every member of the team.

Our experiences show us that the results from even the best idea generation process can be damaged by negative thinking and behaviours that reduce the creativity in a team. Creating the right environment and mindset, with excellent communication backed by understandings from neuroscience gets teams firing on all cylinders.

Culture first

We believe that everyone is naturally resourceful and creative and that working collaboratively enhances our effectiveness. A team that is in alignment, supportive and focused can produce amazing results. This focus, alignment and support needs to be maintained, because the human brain can switch off, become distracted or overloaded, unconsciously sabotaging the process.

Embedding a culture where teams continuously strive for better and better results requires more than just a great process. A resilient team who support, trust and respect each other, will maximise their combined capabilities.

How do we do this?

Working closely with clients to understand their people and business, we draw upon our wide and complementary experience from the communication and creative worlds to build a bespoke programme.

In the Hidden Solutions programme, we learn and demonstrate how the brain works both consciously and unconsciously, discovering what enhances and what detracts from our performance to create the ideal conditions for people to be at their best for collaboration.

Our set-up techniques helps individuals and groups uncover their best mindset for the task ahead. We also consider the physical environment for success in any task. In 2020, this has been particularly pertinent!

We promote constructive behaviours at each stage of the idea generation process; for example, holding back our natural tendency for judgment when creating ideas. This requires keen self-management and the ability to notice behaviours in ourselves and others. Tuning up our awareness also helps us give effective feedback. Giving and receiving evidence-based feedback builds trust and strengthens relationships.

Some fundamental communication skills used in Hidden Solutions are enhanced listening, recapping and asking clean questions. Clean questions are specific types of questions and use a syntax that is highly effective for creating shared understanding and keeping the questioner’s ego out of the way. Clean questions are effective in clarifying opportunities and proliferating ideas.

We recognise and respect different forms of thinking or expression and we encourage contribution from all parties and perspectives.

The Hidden Solutions idea creation process has three main steps, let’s look at these in turn.

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1. What is the Question?

Hidden Solutions starts with finding an issue, a question, a problem or a challenge – we call these opportunities. Clients know their business best and we gather up the participants’ thoughts on potential opportunities that could be tackled. We want a simple and concise statement of what we want to achieve, we call this an Opportunity Statement.

In our experience, teams often do any given task or project very well, but was it the right project to do? So, what really is the question? Are we dealing with the problem or a symptom of it?  To get to the root of the opportunity, we explore, challenge and clarify so that we have a transparent opportunity; free of solution, constraint, assumption and bias. Taking these in turn:

If the opportunity contains a solution, frankly, why generate ideas at all? That’s a ‘task’ – just go do it!

A constraint is a boundary around the scope of an activity. Constraints can be real and beneficial, such as the practical constraints regarding the amount of time, resource or cost we have available. However, the down-side of setting constraints too early is that the pool of ideas created may be unnecessarily limited.

Bias is an unconscious or conscious form of prejudice that colours our thinking and action. It is like looking through a filter that distorts what you see. Recognising and eliminating harmful bias improves the Opportunity Statement.

Assumption is an energy-saving mechanism our brain employs when we accept something as true, without proof. We examine each opportunity and recognise, explore and eliminate assumption, without drama!

The team select which opportunity to work on using criteria they create and then apply one or more voting techniques to make a group decision, so that we can move on to generating ideas.

2. Freely Create Many Ideas

The heart of idea generation is the step in which we Freely Create Many Ideas for the chosen opportunity. These sessions are high energy, fun and are set-up to suspend judgement and create ideas without the handbrake on.

is natural to believe in our ideas and to judge our own and others’ ideas immediately. We co-create as a team an environment where these potential negative impacts are minimised.

How do we do this?

In our ideas sessions, you will see individuals writing ideas on sticky notes and pairs questioning, listening, recapping and clarifying those ideas. In teams we develop those ideas further and use light-hearted application of thinking tools to change perspective and find new ideas. The result – a large pool of ideas and a real sense of group ownership.

Experience can be dangerous! Having a wealth of knowledge of prior solutions can colour judgement and limit our creativity for the future. Thinking tools help us break away from the usual way of thinking and see beyond the predictable solutions. We examine a range of simple, new perspectives to create further ideas. For example, ‘what would this idea be if we created the smallest or largest version of it?’. Our experience is very useful later, when we come to evaluating ideas.

Freely Create Many Ideas is a divergent session where we create as much and as quickly as possible. Later, we evaluate ideas. The two require different mindsets and approaches. Putting constraints on idea generation is a pragmatic way to limit ideas to more viable ones, however we are looking to uncover solutions that are not yet known or are ‘hiding’ and we need to push further. Allowing stimuli such as ‘do this project on the moon’ could be a seed that when developed results in something more achievable and desirable giving the greatest pool of material to work with. When evaluation takes place, we re-enter the real world.

3. Idea Evaluation

In the Freely Create Many Ideas step we have been proliferating ideas i.e. ‘diverging’. In idea evaluation, we are narrowing down the choices i.e. ‘converging’ towards a set of ideas to take forward. When creating, we set no limits on the number of ideas In Freely Create Many Ideas we agree to suspend judgment and we work quickly, whereas in idea evaluation we bring our experience and judgment to bear in order to make choices between ideas and converge to those we wish to take forward.

How do we do this?

In a first step we quickly remove duplicates, sticky notes that are not ideas (sometimes a question or statement is sneaked in!) and we can now remove any stimuli ideas that are illegal or unethical. We have started converging.

As our ideas are potentially quite different, we group ideas that are mostly easily judged against each other. Within groups we apply criteria, that are standards by which the ideas can be assessed. Criteria can be objective and measurable or they may be subjective. Decision-making is more straightforward when an idea can be objectively assessed against a criteria as yes or no. When criteria require subjective decision-making, anomalies can be smoothed out but never eliminated. We might do this by increasing the pool of judges and by applying different voting systems. Listening, recapping and questioning skills developed throughout the programme truly enhance the quality of idea evaluation.

Throughout idea evaluation, one may note gaps appearing in the results. Similarly, a group may have too few ideas for converging. Hidden Solutions encourages continuous application of idea generation, so one could set new opportunities for either of these situations and run the process to Freely Create Many Ideas to increase the pool.

In idea evaluation we benefit from different perspectives and experiences. When there are many ideas to consider, a considerable investment in time is required to fairly evaluate everything. However, by sharing the workload around a group of participants, we can make progress and increase the cross-functional collaboration.

The final number of ideas we aim for depends on the client and their wishes One approach is for the Hidden Solutions team to converge from hundreds of ideas, to tens of ideas and then present those to a wider group to promote discussion, share experience, check and challenge and thus evaluate further. This approach reinforces the culture of collaboration and continuously striving for better and better results.


Hidden Solutions is a bespoke programme, designed to meet the client’s needs and delivered by Jon Ben, of ConvergePD Limited, a product specialist, and Nick Simmonds of Conscious Communication a human communication specialist. We co-deliver our hands-on workshop to groups typically sized from six to 12 people, where we share and practice the process and tools in a very active way. Co-delivering brings our different and complementary skills to bear and allows us to demonstrate some of the tools together. We share and alternate the roles of facilitator to maximise the support given to the participants.

Wrap up

To summarise, when we take the most efficient idea generation process and combine it with creating the most effective culture - of support, collaboration and creativity - it brings out the potential of each individual and the entire group.

The organisation benefits both from the ideas generated and from the culture change.

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