4 Step Process to Bring Creative Ideas to Life

4 Step Process to Bring Creative Ideas to Life

Creative cultures have one thing in common, they have a lot of ideas!

The problem is most teams don’t have a finely tuned process in place to share, respond, and test their ideas.

This can lead to disengagement when voices are buried, and creative expression is stifled.

At Culture Summit, Hung and I ran up against the same challenge not too long ago.  Whether it’s enhancing the conference, or engaging the community – we both have lots of ideas. We realized that we approached design and testing differently.

Hung is passionate about Lean Startup, and I love Design Thinking.  While we had different tools and methodologies to work with, we didn’t have a unified approach.

And it created several head-butting and not so fun moments.

We recognized that we each brought a different approach based on our experience and instead of trying to enforce one style over the other, we looked at how we could embrace our uniqueness.

No matter what industry you work in, ideas are delicate.  When an idea is first born, it can be killed easily by the initial response.  Everyone has an idea-response they default to that is often unconscious.   This usually stems from previous experience in our careers.

Do any of these idea-responses sound familiar to you?

“Yes, but we’ve tried that before…”

“That won’t work because…”

“Have you thought about the implications of…”

“Ok, well it would have been good to mention this last week/month/year…”

These type of responses nip ideas in the bud when ideas need help to bloom. Most of the time it’s not even intentional.

Over the last month, we have been testing out a few different approaches to how we manage our ideas and came up with a process we love. We’re now feeling more inspired, engaged, and collaborating more than ever.

And we’d like to share our Culture Summit Creative Idea Management process with you.


Step 1: Recognize you have an idea and ask permission before sharing

Sometimes we get excited about an idea and can’t wait to share it.  It’s natural to say things in passing like:

“Ooh! What if we…” or “Hey! I was thinking it could be cool if…”

This kind of organic idea sharing is good, natural, and healthy to let flow, but sometimes, it’s not always the right moment to share an idea.

When a team is deep in implementation and execution, bouncing around ideas might derail productivity because of unintentional context switching.  We’ve found it helpful to do the wildly innovative thing and just ask before sharing.

Here’s what it looks like in practice.

Hung and I were working on conference topics when I had an idea about audience engagement.  I asked him, “Hey, I have an idea on how to create more facilitated networking, is now a good time to share?”

We were currently deep in a task, so the moment wasn’t opportune.  Instead, we put the idea on hold and came back to it later.

Practice tip: If you agree to put the idea on hold, be sure to loop back to it later. Think of it as putting your idea in a greenhouse.  It goes there to incubate, but if you don’t come back to it, it will wither and die.


Step 2. Understand that idea management has two parts: Divergence + Convergence

Brainstorming ideas is a divergent process.  In this phase, your goal is to come up with as many ideas as possible.  There are no bad ideas so let your mind run wild.

After you’ve got an abundance of ideas, then it’s time to converge or come together.  Select a few ideas to consider and test.  The diversity of ideas mixed together is where the magic happens.

Look over the list of ideas you have and use empowering phrases such as:

“What makes you excited about this idea?”

“What would the positive outcomes be?”

“Tell me more?”

“How did you get the idea, where did the inspiration come from?”

Here’s what it looks like in practice.

We were brainstorming ideas on how to engage with you, our community.  We created an idea board and challenged each other to add at least 30 ideas (good or bad) over the course of the week.

We then came together in person to sort and select our top two.  We looked over the list and asked each other questions about the ones that caught our attention.  It was easy for us to see where we had alignment and which ideas resonated with us the most.


Step 3. Assess ideas from multiple angles starting with the positive

Equipped with our top two ideas, we had completed the first phase of the brainstorming cycle. Now we needed to vet how to move the idea into implementation.  We used the Disney Method where we used three different perspectives to assess our ideas.

The three perspectives are:

Dreamers: Dream up the best case scenario if this idea is fully realized.  What’s the ‘shoot for the moon’ type of outcome you’d like?

Realizers: How would you bring an idea to life?  Look at how the idea can be put into action. What would be the first step? What are all the pieces that need to be considered?

Critics: Review the plan and search for weaknesses, obstacles, and risks. Discuss the pitfalls and how to address them.  Having pitfalls doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move forward.  Critics seek to improve the plan.

This exercise of the Disney Method helps everyone consider the multiple perspectives that help support the success of an idea.


Step 4. Get things moving forward

If an idea has made it this far, it’s time to test and put it in motion.  When we test ideas, we break the plan of action down into the smallest slice possible that allows us to get the most amount of learning.

Hung and I hold each other accountable by asking questions such as,

“Can we make this even smaller?”

“Are we gaining the most amount of learning from this slice?”

If the answer is no, then we make the slice bigger.

You can also create a spectrum, where you look at:

  • What is the biggest piece you could move forward with now?
  • What is the absolutely smallest?
  • And what would be in the middle?

I call this the Goldilocks Rule =)

Remember, people in your team will show up with different approaches and experience.  Supporting and building on ideas helps to create psychological safety and trust in teams.

Vanessa Shaw is founder of Human Side of Tech, through which she advises forward thinking thinking executives and HR leaders to operate their companies with a culture-first approach, so that they can turn challenge into opportunity when facing rapid growth, digital disruption and culture change.

How to Use Design Thinking to Navigate Culture Change

How to Use Design Thinking to Navigate Culture Change


According to Forbes, agility to how we manage change is one of the top four soft skills in demand for careers in 2017.

Tell me if these sound familiar to you:

“Change is constant.”

“We live in an increasingly more complex world.”

“We need to be agile, fast moving and responsive to change.”

As cliché as they may sound, there’s truth to these phrases.  As organizations become agile and move faster, the annual performance review has become outdated.

Is your organization considering shifting from an annual performance review cycle to a real-time feedback approach?

If so, I’m going to walk you through a tactical example of using design thinking to navigate culture change, as you move from annual performance reviews to real-time feedback.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is two things:

  • A system of beliefs, a way of thinking or ‘mindset;’
  • A process and methodology, or set of practices outlined in 5 different phases; empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.

The purpose of design thinking is to solve problems and address unmet needs by exploring the possibilities of what could be.  It’s not a skill you master, but instead a lifelong practice.

Ready to get started?  Good, let’s put our design thinking hats on.

5 steps to take when Applying Design Thinking to Culture Change:


1. Empathize: Create an Empathy Map

An empathy map is a popular tool used by design thinkers and agile practitioners. However, average people like me and you can use it too.

It’s a 4-quadrant graph where you outline what your customer or stakeholder say, do, think, feel.  Download your copy from Stanford d.School here.

Using our example of moving away from annual performance reviews to real-time feedback, many people in your organization will have questions around how this is going to be implemented and rolled out.

Over the coming weeks, start observing and documenting what people say, do, think, and feel using an empathy map to gain deeper insight.

For example, this is how it might look like:


Using an empathy map allows you to immerse yourself in the culture of your organization as you’re going through this huge change.  In the next step, we’ll look at how you can use the data gathered from your empathy map.


2. Define: Needs to Insights Formula

Once you’ve created your empathy map, review it and look at what the “needs” are. Those are easy to find as they’re usually verbs.  When you have the “needs,” you can begin using them to identify insights.

Remember: Be careful to avoid coming up with solutions at this point.  Solutions are generally seen as the nouns in empathy maps.

From my empathy map, I identified the following insights:

  • Need to clarify the use of a new tool
  • Need to understand the impact
  • Need to communicate and ask questions

With the “needs” identified, we can begin exploring the why of each need to uncover more insights.

  • Why do they need clarification?
  • Why do they need to understand?
  • Why do they need to ask questions?

Finally, we link it all together using the Needs to Insights Formula below:

< Who > + needs to find a way to + < unmet need > because ___< why >___

Example: My team needs to find a way to clarify and understand the new feedback system because they are feeling uncertain about the impact it will have on our culture.

In the next step, we’ll look at how to begin solutioning with our newfound insight.


3. Ideate: Reframe the Insight into a ‘How Might We’ Question

With our newfound insight, we can now reframe this into a “How might we…” question or HMW for short.  Asking an HMW question switches your neural pathways from a stagnant, fixed state to a creative state.

Get those creative juices flowing by asking more HMW questions.

How might we clarify, communicate and answer questions so that we can align our team and create a new feedback and recognition culture?

The design thinking process follows a diverge-converge-diverge-converge rhythm.  In this step, our HMW question is convergence.  We have figured out the questions to ask, now let’s explore some possible answers.

This moves us back to a divergence where we want to create more choices. So, let’s bust out the post-it notes because we are ready to brainstorm!

Pro Tip: Involve your team and brainstorm together during a meeting.  If you have remote colleagues, do so on a wiki.  There are no wrong or bad ideas in a brainstorm.

The goal is to get all the most outlandish, wild, and wonderful ideas out there.


4. Prototype: Produce the Experience

This is the fun part.

Prototype the experience with whatever you have at your disposal; Legos, Play-Doh, sketch boarding, or whatever your fancy!  Prototyping is the moment to play out what the experience might look like.

You want to do this for two reasons.

First, prototyping allows you to find the quickest path to direct experience so that you can learn the things you need to learn.

Second, doing is the best kind of thinking.  We’re so used to thinking before doing, when in fact, we learn the most by doing.

Using our example, work with your team to create a story on what rolling out real-time feedback will be like.  This allows everyone to envision the experience.

Put your HMW question up on the whiteboard, throw materials on the table, and give your team the opportunity to prototype.


5. Test: Involve Someone New

Once you’ve gotten a chance to prototype what the experience will be like, invite a colleague who was not involved in the design process.  Walk them through your prototype experience and treat them as your first user.

Have others on your team to watch, observe and take notes.  Loop back to your empathy map and gather new insights as you go through this iteration.

When you’re done, complete a retrospective to extract the learnings.  It could be something simple as answering the following three questions:

  • What went well
  • What didn’t go well
  • What needs to change

At Culture Summit, we like to use a tool called Scatterspoke for our retrospectives.

From here you can decide if your design might need some tweaking, launch a new iteration, or use the insights to help with implementation.

It will be up to you and your team to know what’s the best next step based on the learnings you were able to uncover.

Vanessa Shaw is founder of Human Side of Tech, through which she advises forward thinking thinking executives and HR leaders to operate their companies with a culture-first approach, so that they can turn challenge into opportunity when facing rapid growth, digital disruption and culture change.

Top Three Key Learnings From Conducting 19 Company Culture Tours

Top Three Key Learnings From Conducting 19 Company Culture Tours

As 2016 is coming to an end, I’m looking back at all the changes we have seen in the people and culture space.  Over the course of the year, I visited 19 companies across the US and Europe conducting culture tours learning a lot through the process.

Here are my top three key learnings from conducting 19 company culture tours this year.

1. Invest in Growth More Than Perks

Over the last few years, we have seen the perks war.  Talent has started to see right through this, and the top rated companies to work for on Glassdoor know it too.  You cannot buy great company culture with ping pong and free beer.

While at Hubspot, Caroline Cotto from the Employee Experience team said:

“We think about – if we stripped away all the perks, would our culture stand on its own? Would people still be invested in working here?”  

I believe this change is in part, due to the millennial workforce arriving at their 30’s.  As millennials mature, free lunches and cool parties are less appealing. They are more interested in opportunities to develop professionally and contribute to meaningful work as they build their portfolio.

Learning Tip:
Ask yourself how might we invest in the professional development and growth of our people in big and small ways?

2. Think of Your Company as a Community

Hung and I had the opportunity to attend the CMX West conference for community managers.  We agree with their vision that the future of business is community.  Evidence can be found in the importance of community in several areas:

  • Recruiting programs are investing more in referral programs as a community-oriented way to attract and retain talent.

  • Former employees are now seen as alumni, who can be some of your best brand advocates and potential brand ambassadors.

  • They can also decide to come back and join you again.  This has been coined as a ‘boomerang employee’ (which can translate to faster and less costly hiring/onboarding).

  • Companies like Medium, Zappos, and Buffer have been recognized for flatter hierarchies with a community-based workplace models such holacracy and agile.

Forward-thinking companies see their talent as part of their wider community and this stretches beyond the walls of the workplace.

Learning Tip:
Ask yourself how might we create a community-oriented approach to our company?


3. If You Want to Change Your Culture, Start with Technology

During this year’s summit, we heard from Peter Scocimara at Google for Work where he said:

“If you want to change the culture, one of the first and fastest ways to do this is by changing the technology you are using.”  

I couldn’t agree more.

I believe the movement to flatter hierarchies has been propelled by more open and collaborative tools.  Working with colleagues in the cloud with a collaborative document like Google drive changes how people work together.

If you are feeling stuck with how to innovate your culture, try experimenting with new technology tools. Just remember, that anytime you propose something new. be sure to create a case for it by trying it with yourself first.

In my experience with helping teams adopt new software, the biggest error I see is rolling out a new tool before experimenting with it on a smaller scale first.

Learning Tip:
Ask yourself what technology are we currently using to collaborate?  How might we adopt different tools that support the culture I want to work in?

Thank you to all who welcomed me at Spotify, Skype, Airbnb, Digital Ocean, Next Jump, Facebook, Google, Linkedin, Twitter, Yammer, Asana, Pandora, Hubspot, Typeform, New Relic, Wayfair, Redbooth, and Zinc.

Is there a company I haven’t visited yet that you think I should?  Let me know in the comments.

Vanessa Shaw is founder of Human Side of Tech, through which she advises forward thinking thinking executives and HR leaders to operate their companies with a culture-first approach, so that they can turn challenge into opportunity when facing rapid growth, digital disruption and culture change.