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Innovation: Debating Ideas

innovation Aug 17, 2022

We may often think of ideating as synonymous with brainstorming. Yet, I would propose that brainstorming is an incomplete description. We want more than just a list of possible ideas . . . we want to hear different perspectives, see connections and make that list as robust as possible.

To enhance this understanding of ideating, we’ve explored the generating, expanding and clustering elements of ideating in this blog series. As your ideas list becomes more robust, a natural group momentum can start steering us towards the narrowing process. Before narrowing it down and deciding on what you will implement, consider stepping back and analyzing the ideas emerging in the process.

One way to analyze your robust list of ideas is engaging in dialogue through debate. Debating when done appropriately can be an effective way to probe into the potential success of various ideas. Let’s talk about ways to make debating ideas work for you. 

Set the Stage for Debate

Unfacilitated debate may be counterproductive as personalities, competing agendas or personal attacks derail the dialogue. Setting the stage for debate requires the role of a facilitator who can guide the process.

  • Determine the productive purpose of the debate. How will this conversation move an  idea forward? 
  • Prepare the questions. What probing questions can you ask that will guide the exploration into what will work and won’t work for an idea?
  • Set the ground rules. Healthy debate requires that trust exists between participants. Ground rules provide explicit guidelines for purposeful dialogue that can build trust.

Here’s a few ground rules to get you started:

  • Frame your debate around the idea and not the people
  • Debating isn’t loud, antagonistic or personal
  • Ask questions and stay curious; do less telling or lobbying for an idea
  • The goal is not to win, but to share perspectives
  • Add to the “arguments” of others rather than seeking to “shoot down” an idea.  
  • Play to the opposite viewpoint to fully explore and check your own bias

A leader’s role as facilitator is to create a space where debate does its job – probing into and analyzing the ideas on the table. 

"Openness, respect, integrity these are principles that need to underpin pretty much every other decision that you make." ~Justin Trudeau

Debate The WHAT

Focus the conversation on the ideas themselves. Consider taking the list of robust ideas you clustered together and display them in front of the group as a focal point. Facilitate them one at a time, engaging the debate for each one rather than comparing and contrasting one idea against another. If the conversation is going well, move to a second set of questions comparing one idea to another. 

Keep the debate focused with a list of questions prepared in advance. You may even give the list in advance to the group so they can prepare their thoughts for the debate. Here’s some questions to analyze the “what” of your ideas:

  • WHAT is the potential impact of this idea?
  • WHAT will be different as a result of pursuing this idea?
  • WHAT are the “pros” of this idea? WHAT are the “cons”? 

Debate The WHY

Analyzing ideas for their impact and outcomes is helpful in analyzing the “what” of an idea. Debating the alignment of an idea to the mission and priorities of the organization gets at analyzing the “why” of an idea. This convergence between the “what” and the “why” offers a deeper analysis before you jump to the “how” to do the idea.  

Here’s some questions to analyze the “why” of your ideas:

  • WHY do you believe this idea aligns with the mission or priority of the team?
  • WHY do you see this idea as integrated with the other key activities we are doing?
  • WHY does this idea demonstrate one or more of our core values?

"The art of decision making includes the art of questioning." ~Pearl Zhu, Decision Master: The Art and Science of Decision Making

What’s Next?

Debating is not the only way to analyze ideas. You can choose alternative ways to engage analytical questioning, gaining perspective, and nuancing the ideas on your list. The goal in debating is to stay focused on the merits of a particular idea rather than debate the “how to” implement an idea. 

Narrowing down to the idea you want to pursue and evaluating whether it’s possible or not to execute the idea is our next blog! Share your thoughts below or email me a question!








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