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Collaborative Ideation

(A Change Management Article)

Creating a culture where collaborative ideation is encouraged rather than discouraged can accelerate the change management process and your digital transformation.

Several years ago, my son who was teaching in Paraguay, shared the story of the LandfillHarmonic. In 2006, Favio Chávez and Nicolás Gómez “Cola” had an idea to combine Favio’s environmental technology occupation and Cola's recycling knowledge with their love of music in Cateura Paraguay. In a city where the only asset was garbage, and the future of the children was to be destined to work the landfill, Favio, Cola and a set of local heroes determined to provide futures for those who had none. And together these leaders created LandfillHarmonic, a music school using instruments constructed from landfill items. Their first instrument was a violin, but soon Favio, Cola and others created enough instruments out of wooden pallets, paint cans, oil drums, forks, and coins to start an orchestra... The LandfillHarmonic Orchestra[i]. Their collaborative ideation turned an impossible situation into a better life for children living on top of a landfill.

Consider three types of ideation; all can deliver significant value, but one delivers additional value to the organization.

Inspired Ideation

The first form of ideation is “inspired ideation” This form pulls inspiration from the mist. These ideas are created by those individuals, who without prompting, generate brilliance from thin air. This ideation form is rare, though occurs more often than we realize due to the reticence of organizations to accept new ideas or of the originator to risk their proposal. Their idea may be disruptive, transformative, or otherwise brilliant, but their idea is also a solo performance. Like a soloist, we as an audience can be moved. However, the movement is often limited to those in direct contact with the soloist. In addition, the listeners to a soloist can just as easily act as blockers such that the rest of the organization remains unaware of the idea. The inertia of the cultural change supported by the idea is limited by the ability of the individual or the idea to inspire us directly. A single rejection early in the idea’s life can easily kill this idea and suppress future ideas.

Elaborative Ideation

The second form of ideation is “elaborative ideation”. This is when an idea is proposed and initially rejected, refined and re-presented, only to be rejected again, and refined and re-presented until finally accepted. Like the first form of ideation, this is still a solo act with all the benefits and drawbacks. This form of ideation has the benefit of the refinement of the idea as it makes its way through the adoption lifecycle. However, this form has the additional risk of listeners growing weary of the idea and potentially encouraging its abandonment before realization. This form requires the originator to continue with a persistence that may not be supported by the surrounding culture.

Collaborative Ideation

The third form of ideation is “collaborative ideation”. An idea may be proposed as usual for our organizations. But this time, it is picked up by other team members who each refine the idea to add more value as it passes through a safe environment where the ability to critique an idea without rejection and make suggestions are valued by both the team and the originator. On each elaboration, each team member adds value and clarifies the idea like each instrument adds depth and breath to the performance, until the final idea sounds like a full orchestra playing a beautiful symphony. This form has the added value of expanding the stakeholders to speed cultural adoption and strengthening the resonance of the idea as more advocates are directly inspired to drive the transformation. Over time, the team itself becomes defenders of the ideation process refusing to let ideas with any potential be killed, instead periodically revisiting them.

Collaborative ideation can be used for organizational change as well. Co-creation platforms can enable collaborative ideation across an enterprise, allowing diverse geographies, functions, and perspectives to be combined into something greater than that of any single contributor.

Collaborative ideation is not easily achieved. It is natural for us to be reluctant to be vulnerable or defensive when our idea is critiqued. It is also natural to reject an idea without seeing its possibilities. Neither behavior is desired, and changing these behaviors may be a cultural change as well.


Ideas are valuable regardless of how they arise. Like Favio and “Cola” demonstrated, ideas can be born anywhere, and ideas change lives. Creating a culture where ideas are welcome regardless of the source is fundamental to transformation, but creating a culture where collaborative ideation is encouraged rather than discouraged because of the surrounding culture can accelerate the change management process and your digital transformation.

© 2018 Barry Robbins, Silver Bear Solutions

Contact The Author

Barry Robbins is an IT Executive with a strong record of success in transforming IT organizations by envisioning, developing, and implementing IT business solutions.


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