From The Complete Leader Podcast Episode 84

If you want to be a futuristic thinker, you also need to be an ideator.

In my work with The Innovator’s Advantage, Dr. Evans Baiya and I guide teams and organizations through the innovation process. It’s essentially a blueprint for futuristic thinking, to take an idea and move it through this process to create something of new value. And we’ve often found that one of the greatest roadblocks to success is in a team’s ability to create new ideas.

We share a study that notes it takes 3,000 ideas to come up with one new, disruptive, and commercially successful idea—but some of our clients often find it difficult to come up with even 100 ideas. Without that, you don’t have enough ideas to think futuristically.

What gets in the way, even for me, is that you want to evaluate your ideas before you’ve even shared them. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “I’ve got this idea, and it’s probably terrible, but I’m going to go ahead and share it.” And once I’ve shared it, the idea receives a positive response. It’s amazing how your own mind will convince you that your ideas are no good.

It’s a huge roadblock to futuristic thinking because the best idea is never your first. But that first idea might help you reach other ideas that become game changers.

Learning how to create high quantities of ideas—without evaluating them prematurely—is an important part of futuristic thinking. Once you are able to do that with your team, you can approach scenario planning, to take all kinds of ideas to plan for potential future scenarios.

How to Ideate as a Team

When ideating with a group, try to focus on creating a sense of urgency to brainstorm a large quantity of ideas in a short amount of time—say, 20 ideas in five minutes around a specific topic. This exercise helps to turn off that part of your brain that wants to evaluate your ideas immediately. You’ll have no time to judge your ideas, and it brings you closer to a state of childhood creativity.

I did this with an R&D group for a major, global beverage company once. We had about 120 people together over three days, and that first day we spent just playing games. I wanted them used to simply ideating around something that didn’t have any consequence so that they wouldn’t judge. I find people are more creative when there are no stakes involved.

Only after that did we begin to introduce some of the problems and opportunities that were currently evident in their business. On the final day, the teams began developing solutions around these opportunities and presented their ideas to senior management. About halfway through the presentations, one of the senior engineers leaned over to me and said, “They just solved a problem we’ve been trying to solve for 20 years.”

Some of the best engineers in the world had been trying to solve this problem and all these young people going through the training had come up with a solution! How did they do it? They created enough ideas to get there, played with their ideas, and turned off that judgmental voice in the back of their minds.

Use Scenario Planning to Ideate for the Future

With scenario planning, you create multiple futures to think about and prepare for, so as you move into the future you have a diversity of ideas that you can apply. There are four scenarios you can ideate around:

Utopia: Imagine you are the creator of the universe with a blank canvas. Forget about any constraints here and create a magical future. This is not a future you’ll plan for, but it does help you imagine an ideal future.

Doomsday: This is the opposite of Utopia. Consider a situation when everything that could go wrong, does. What would you do? How would you survive it? How would you recreate yourself? The reality is that some businesses are facing this and won’t survive if they don’t anticipate how they can reinvent themselves around the worst that can happen.

Preferred: This future is not truly utopian because you know you don’t have a magic wand to control the universe. Instead, it is what you would like the future to look like within the context of what you think is realistic.

Probable: And finally, think about a future based on what’s happening today and what you can anticipate right now. This is what you imagine the future will look like in two, three, or 10 years.

In developing detailed pictures of each scenario, you’re growing your futuristic thinking skills more and more. And once you need to begin making strategic decisions, you have a rich background of thinking and ideas to pull from, and the quality of your decisions will be better.

In learning to become a successful ideator, and therefore a futuristic thinker, you’ll begin to stand out as a leader. These skills are often underdeveloped in others, and they will help make you a profound, influential, and impactful leader.

Photo by Alena Darmel via Pexels.