The world’s most innovative companies run regular ideation sessions to fill their product and innovation pipelines. Ideation sessions can be extremely powerful, but only if they’re strategically designed.


Let’s be honest…we’ve all attended “ideation sessions” that are really just meetings that were a little more fun…where pizza and snacks are paired with a no-rules mindset to let people brainstorm anything they’d like. While this can make for a memorable bit of team building, this kind of session generally doesn’t lead to world-class ideation results. Interestingly, a lack of constraints often leads to broad, obvious or non-executable ideas that don’t tie back to a strategic goal. 

In less effective sessions, there isn’t a dedicated facilitator, or if there is, often the facilitator is also a senior leader, introducing an added layer of performance anxiety for attendees. Now, not only do ideation participants need to generate creative ideas, but also balance what the boss would like to hear. 

To avoid these and other common challenges, Phillips & Co. breaks an ideation session project into three phases: Session Design, the Session and Activation.


In the Session Design phase, we start by asking what the goal of the ideation effort is. And – if an ideation session is even the right approach. Then, we consider the final outcome we’re working toward, so that we can design the project with the desired results as the target.

It’s important to remember that most successful innovations solve a known problem. So, at this point, we invest in unpacking consumer or client problems. What do they really need solved? And how can we bring those problems fully into focus so we can build them into the process?

We then carefully design the team that will participate. It can make sense to include a mix of subject matter experts and external minds who can bring fresh perspectives to the challenge. Should there be a range of different viewpoints, mixing gender, age and levels of experience? Should you find strong creative or strategic thinkers to pull into the process?

If the challenge is related to developing new offerings for consumers or customers, consider if those customers should be involved in the ideation work or not (both can be the right answer, based on the challenge). Then, craft the session agenda, preparing inspiration and insights to support each part of the agenda. Finally, brief the team, and give them a set of challenges to begin working on before the session.


In the session itself, a neutral, expert facilitator should lead the group through a range of different explorations of the topic. A great ideation facilitator can sense when a group is stuck, and pivot to leverage a different technique or move on to another sub challenge on the fly.

You know a session is going well if the range of ideas being generated is diverse and the work is breaking new ground throughout the session. Here and there, you see breakthrough ideas that are both new and…just might work. Sometimes it makes sense to do some work to distill the ideas down to a list of the most promising ideas during the session. However, sometimes it is best to do that analysis work after the session.


Post Session, the goal is to take action quickly. There are countless three-ring binders full of ideas that sit idle, having never been fully reviewed or developed. Thoughtfully considering what you’ll do with the ideas (back in the Session Design phase) helps you be ready to continue work quickly. Is there a deeper idea screening process to employ now? Will you take the best ideas and turn them into rapid prototypes or test them with customers? Or lead a series of technical evaluations? Even imperfectly starting to play with the ideas right after the session is far better than letting them decorate your office.



In our post above, you’ll see what might at first seem like a counterintuitive principle behind great ideation sessions: planning and structure. Gifted creative people almost always apply structure to their work to streamline their creative development – an ideation session benefits from the same level of preparation and rigor. A session without structure is like a rudderless ship without a destination – you might arrive somewhere beneficial, but you most likely won’t.

A session with a clear goal, design, expert facilitation, and a carefully built team of insiders and outside minds greatly increases the oddly of success, keeping the creative work grounded firmly in the needs of customers and the organization, delivering massive value and robust pipelines.

Phillips & Co. is a leading innovation consulting firm.
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