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Innovation: Connecting the Dots

innovation Aug 10, 2022

A group of people coming together to create forward momentum for the organization can be a complex meeting to facilitate! This is the experience of many nonprofit leaders with diverse constituencies who have “voice” into the momentum you’re trying to build. 

I’ve been there recently with a group that admitted ideas come easily for them. In this diverse group with different perspectives the ideas were plentiful and robust. The sticking point was turning those ideas into decisions they could act upon. 

Too often we expect discussion around ideas to lead to an obvious choice where consensus is easily achieved. While that does happen at times, you’ve also probably had experiences when the choice is not obvious and consensus is unlikely at this stage. In that case, you may end up with only a robust list of ideas without a clear path to move forward productively.

Before you take another step toward decision making, may I suggest you try what I did with this group? Slow down the conversation and first connect the dots. Look for the patterns and connections between the ideas to take the conversation to the next level. Draw out the potential within these ideas before you move to narrowing down the conversation. Below are some ways to do this:

Make Idea Patterns Visual

People process ideas and learn new things in different ways – for some talking it through helps them connect the dots and notice patterns. However, for many of us “seeing” the connection brings it to life. The connections become tangible and that can illuminate the path forward. 

  • Clusters: Put ideas on Post-It notes on the wall and move them around and discuss connections or the “themes” you are clustering together. Give each cluster a color.
  • Connections: Create a “constellation” of ideas on your wall where you take each clustered theme and see how they might be connected to other clusters. Draw a line to visually connect these ideas.
  • Intersections: Consider how ideas might intersect if you were to select more than one idea to pursue. Make a notation by assigning a shared number to intersecting ideas.
  • Patterns: Step back and look at any patterns that might have emerged. What is unanticipated? What is unusual? What else do you observe?

“Finding opportunity is a matter of believing it's there." ~Barbara Corcoran

Utilize Back Burner Thinking

Your tendency is going to be to want to make a decision. To get going and take action. Even though the group may seem to be ready to narrow down to the top options, you may want to give them space for some “back burner” thinking. Consider sending the group on a “break” to reflect on these themes with a few questions:

  1. How do the various “idea clusters” reflect the observations we collected as we began ideating?
  2. How well do these “idea clusters” align with the challenge we are trying to address?
  3. What would make any given idea or cluster worth pursuing?

Coming together again after some “back burner” thinking can position your group for evaluating the ideas reflectively rather than on impulse.

What’s Next

Once you see all the idea connections and reflect on your themes and commonalities, are you ready to decide your focus? Or are there steps that should come first before narrowing down your list? What discussions remain for you and your team on the various themes you’ve identified?

In the next blog, let’s talk about how to facilitate a conversation to discuss and debate the different idea clusters identified in your process of connecting the dots.

For Reflection

What is most difficult about facilitating conversations that connect the dots? What have you tried that has worked to see deeper into the potential of ideas? Comment below. I’d love to hear from you.







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