How to go from boardroom panic to boardroom pay-rise with rapid idea-generating skills

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The pressure was on: the CEO had just sat down with her key reports and laid it all out. “This client and project takes top priority. I want you to drop everything you’re working on and get stuck onto this right now, and I mean right now.” 

“I want your best insights and ideas as to how we can bedazzle them with an initiative that will make them money and make them stand out fast. Here’s the project brief. I want you pitching those ideas in the boardroom in one hour when the client will be arriving. I need not say what will happen if the client is disappointed. Now make it happen people, now!”

Declan and Harper looked at each other. How were they going to make this happen in 59 minutes time?

Sound familiar? Well, hopefully you don’t experience that pressure every day, yet I come across a countless number of people who share with me the panic, paralysis and stress that can come when they have to create ideas and solutions under pressure. 

In this blog I share some of my most successful step by step techniques on how to create insights and ideas to solve complex problems in rapid succession. Meaning you can save your job, elevate your reputation and increase your pay-packet.

[read on to find out how or listen to our podcast or watch our video]

Declan was new to the company but was great at pitching. He knew he could sell ‘ice to the Inuit’ but generating ideas, valuable ideas in T minus 58 minutes was not going to happen. You can’t polish a turd, his father had always told him, and no matter how good his pitching skills, he’d need to team up with Harper to make it happen. 

Declan and Harper had a frosty relationship. Even though Declan had only been at the organisation for a couple of months, he’d had some great pitches with potential clients that had brought in more business than anyone else had for a while. He was lucky that his emotional intelligence (EQ) training, advanced influence training and pitching training had done the trick because Declan always flailed if he was put on the spot for ideas. This had obviously ruffled Harper’s feathers because she was quite the opposite, brilliant at creating ideas, but he’d heard through the grapevine that she literally sucked at presenting in front of a crowd especially the CEO. It was time to make a truce, if both of them were to keep their jobs they’d need to work together.

Harper was already reading over the brief and starting to piece together how she would tackle it, all except how she could pitch her ideas. Damn it, why was she so bad at presenting and why did she get so nervous? “If only I could pitch my ideas like Declan the dork,” she thought to herself. Well, Declan was hardly a dork, but she was insanely annoyed that he had waltzed into the company that she’d been working her way up from the trenches in, only now to be left out of the important meetings. Meetings in which Declan would be wooing clients and their superiors with his velvet voice and velvet sports coat. Argh!

“Ergh, Hey Harper. I know now’s not the time for a social chat, but I’m wondering if we might be able to work together on this one.” Declan’s voice broke her thinking.

“Am I really hearing this? Why do you want to work on this together, Declan? You seem to have no problem smooth-talking the CEO any other time?” Gosh. Harper really was sounding like a right twat saying that, but it had come out before she could pull it back in.

“Um, to be honest Harper, I’m not the best at creating good ideas, but you are. I’ve seen your campaign ideas before, they are almost always brilliant. The only ideas I’ll be able to share today are likely to get me fired, but I do know how to pitch. Can you let me in your secrets to killer ideas? I’m happy to pitch them as a team effort if you’re willing’”

Time seemed to stop still, and Harper’s mind seemed to lay out her options as clear as day for her. Option one - go it alone and create the ideas, but sound like an idiot when pitching it or option two - team up with ‘gift of the gab’ Declan and look like the ‘A’ team. The outcome was obvious.

“Okay, Declan O’Hennessey, but here’s the deal. When you pitch, you say it was our ideas led by me, not yours, and you agree to teach me some of your pitching magic sometime soon.”

“Deal!” Declan said as he and Harper shook hands on it.

“Time to wake up that simple mind of yours O’Hennessy. Go grab that flip chart paper and some pens and I’ll see you in the ideas room.”

Whenever you’re under the pump to solve a problem or to generate an idea, it always pays to look for an insight by looking at what the real issue is. Too often, the problems we solve are not the root problem, but an offshoot of them, or an associated problem. 

In last week’s blog and in my podcast, I mentioned how to turn pain points into payment opportunities by identifying a higher lever problem that provides you a more valuable insight that solves the original problem in a more effective way. Once we have the problem clarified, we can generate ideas.

By far, the simplest way we can create ideas quickly when under pressure is to use the problem as the catalyst for other problems. Stay with me, it will make sense in a moment. Let’s see what Harper has brought to the table in her situation.

“Alright, so the brief is a bit rough, but in a nutshell, we have a tech startup that has what they reckon is a world-changing app that uses AI to predict what you are most likely to write next. They got their idea from the Gmail predictor that suggests the next one to two words you are likely to use as you write an email. Apparently they’ve worked out a way to be able to predict your next four to five words you will use to 90% accuracy. Their stated problem is that they haven’t been able to get any venture capitalists (VC’s) attention and they need to secure funding in order to turn their idea into a reality.” Harper finished her summary and paused to think.

“So, all we need to do is a way to invite some VC’s to a demo and we’re sorted” suggested Declan.

“Not so fast Sherlock, that’s a problem but necessarily the right problem. Why do they need that problem solved Sherlock?” 

“Derr, to secure some money” retorted Declan.

“And why do they need that problem solved?”

“Because they’re broke, have a brilliant idea and haven’t made any money yet, so now they’re clutching at straws to make some money, but they’re worried that some VC punks are going to make all the money while they do all the work” ventured Declan.

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“Exactly, and that’s where we’ll find one of the real problems we need to solve for them. The real problem isn’t about how we can create a VC demo to invite people to, it’s how can we help them fund their idea now, without losing all their potential future earnings to the VC.” Harper continued to speak as she wrote on the flip chart. “And yet, VC’s apart from funding also provide a network of professional contacts to help on specialised activities, whether it’s legal, distribution, operations and staffing etcetera.” Harper concluded.

“Bummer, I thought we could just launch a ‘crowd sourcing’ campaign for them and we’d be done” chirped Declan.

“Close, but I think they would have done that themselves if that was all they needed. Yet what if we created a ‘crowd funding’ campaign and ‘work-barter’ campaign too?” asked Harper.

Declan was flummoxed “What’s a ‘work barter’ campaign?” 

“I’m not sure, I just made it up. Yet if we could create a way of tapping into a social campaign searching for specific skills and tasks completed that the team might need, then we could create a site that is a bit like a freelancing outsourcing site such as ‘Upwork’. We make it for this project specifically and instead of paying for the services, they trade either future subscriptions or micro amounts of equity in their business”. 

Declan finished her thinking “And if the solution is compelling enough, which we think it is, and we create some clever ideas to capture people’s attention, we could not only get them the funding they need, but also the support and future sales”.

“Before you sell that O’Hennesey, we need some killer ideas on how to grab their attention and make this ‘work-barter’ idea work. We’ve got forty-five minutes to go, time to hustle.”

“The way to go about this is to identify the key thing we don’t want to happen. Such as what are all the ways we can make sure no one wants to commit any time or energy to the project” Harper finished speaking and wrote out the last sentence on a new piece of flip-chart paper.

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“Whoah, are you crazy Harper, I mean, your idea for a combined work-barter and crowd funding campaign is awesome, but now you want to make sure that no one helps?” Asked Declan incredulously.

“This is the second biggest lesson you’ll learn, so listen up, innovation is counterintuitive. Just trust me, I’ve got us here this far haven’t I?”

Declan, had to agree she knew what she was doing. “Okay, but we’ve got to hurry”.

On Harper’s insistence, Declan and Harper started to write on ‘Post-It’ notes, all the ways they could make sure no one would commit any time or energy to the project. Declan’s pen flowed furiously as he listed one after the other of ways to stop people committing themselves. 

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1. Don’t tell anyone about it

2. Give them nothing in reward

3. Keep them in the dark

4. Not telling them why they are doing the project

5. Not sharing how they came up with the idea

6. Not sharing who the people behinds the idea are

7. Not giving an accurate accounting of the service exchange

8. Not crediting people who help

“Okay let’s stop there Declan, it looks like you’ve got a stack that we can start with.”

Harper drew two vertical lines on the flip chart, thereby creating three columns. On the left column she wrote ‘stop’, and on the far right column she wrote the word ‘opposite’, but she left the middle one unlabelled.

“Alright place your ‘Post-it’ notes on the left hand column sequentially so that there’s only one ‘Post-it’ per row.” Instructed Harper. Declan and Harper placed their twenty something ‘Post-it’ notes in the column. Harper then started removing some of the duplicate answers that had been written leaving 13 ‘Post-it’ notes remaining.

“Okay, now for each one of these ‘stop’ actions we have done I want you to think about a radical ‘opposite’ and I mean a really out there ‘opposite’. Let’s see, you’ve written ‘not crediting people who help’, what would be a complete opposite to that Declan?”

“Ergh, maybe to put their name on a list of contributors or something?”

“Okay, that’s a start but I want you to think of something that’s really radical, what would be a ridiculous thing to do?” prompted Harper.

“Gosh, what about we make a video profiling each individual, or we frame a life-size photo of each one of them in the venue we launch the product in?” ventured Declan.

“Now you’re thinking, keep going.”

“We could profile one of the ‘work-barter’ people each day on a website sharing what they’ve been doing to help and maybe cross promote their business or website if they have one?”

“Yes, love it, hit me with some more,” encouraged Harper.

Declan was pumped and he kept riffing “We could make one of those ‘friend maps’ that they have on Facebook showing all the faces of the people who’ve helped out, or we could write a testimonial or reference for the work that each worker has provided”.

“Alright time out. I can’t keep up writing this all down”

“Now that you know how it works, I want you to write out all the opposites that you can think of to the ‘stops’ we identified, and remember to make them extreme,” finished Declan.

Declan and Harper wrote out close to thirty opposite ideas. Now Harper started to speak as she wrote the word ‘viable’ in the middle column.

“Now that we’ve gone crazy, it’s time to get commercial. We need to think for each ‘opposite’ idea written down, what might be a commercially viable version of the opposite idea. Some won’t need to change at all, but for others we might need to make a bit more practical either from a financial or resource perspective. Let’s go with your opposite idea of having a life sized framed picture of one of the ‘work-barter’ contributors. They’re not going to be able to afford that, nor would we have the room especially if there’s hundreds of contributors onboard. Yet we could do something like print out a photo on polaroid photos. We could then organise the photos into categories of types of work completed so that people get to understand the whole production process too!”

“Oohh, I like that. I get it now, I’ll start writing out the ‘viables’ for the top ‘Post-it’ notes and you do the bottom” suggested Declan.

“You’re on. 25 minutes to go, O’Hennessy”.

Harper and Declan made short work of the final “viables.” Declan was surprised at how many crazy opposites were viable.

Harper started to summarise, “Okay, I think we have enough now. We’ve got a crystal clear insight which is ‘the need to fund their idea without losing all their future earnings to VC’s, and needing a way to access specific skill sets beyond the teams skills to have tasks completed without having to pay upfront, yet with a fair compensation for services provided. All whilst creating a group of beta testers and a community of users and influencers.”

“The core idea we have to respond to this insight is, to create a combined a ‘crowd funding’ campaign with a ‘work-barter’ campaign that encourages and recognises contributor’s efforts. This is further supported by all our viable ideas on how to get people to commit energy and work to the project.”

“Yeeww!” Declan started clapping but Harper stared him down.

“It’s your turn Declan. How do we pitch this sucker so it knocks them dead?”

To be continued in our next episode.

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If you liked the methods used by our gang of innovators, be sure to download your FREE copy of our ‘Reverse brainstorming’ ideation process flow chart, which takes you through the technique step-by-step. Alternatively, subscribe and listen to our podcast on how to go from boardroom panic to boardroom pay rise. You can also watch the video on the same topic.

Subscribe to our podcast or if you’re interested in our keynotes, head over here. Or if you’re interested in a workshop or an organisational transformation, simply reach out to us at our contact page.

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Nils Vesk | Innovation Keynote Speaker | Innovation Consultant | Trends Futurist

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