Beyond Your Wildest Themes

Excerpts & Ideas from Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think


Last week we covered our version of brainstorming and the tools we use to distill ideas to make them actionable and create solutions that meet your business needs. Although design thinking is big right now and can sometimes feel intimidating, we find that boiling it down to three simple rounds of creative questioning at three minutes a round is tangible enough for anyone to take on. The purpose of Funnel Vision™ is to take all the ideas that were generated and hone in on what can be done, and what should be done. This is followed up by mapping out the filtered ideas on the HOW WOW matrix, which gives a visual of how much delight it will bring to your users and how many resources it would take to execute . This week we will show you how identifying themes can help further enhance the effectiveness of any ideas you came up with, and how others have found its benefits since the recent publication of Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think.

We will be highlighting the Reframework process through a series of posts on the Innovation Channel in an effort to spread this way of thinking. The key to these techniques, however, is to trust in the process, so follow us from the beginning as we cover all of the steps every Friday for the upcoming weeks all leading up to the Chief Innovation Summit in NYC on December 8-9. We hope to see you there

Ideating sometimes sounds as simple as thinking of ideas to solve your problem (diverging) and then picking your favorites (converging) until you find the perfect idea that will change your business forever. However, unless you have a general framework in place to help guide and nurture your ideating process then you will find that your brainstorming sessions will go astray and ideas will not map to your ultimate business goals. Through the Reframework you stay aligned with what you want to accomplish and what is going to make your users happy, and now that you have successfully diverged and converged at least once on this guided path, we can now take a look at the output.

In looking at the ideas that your team selected as their favorites, you will naturally see groups of certain types of ideas or themes. Bringing the ideas back up into themes helps to focus on the broad ways in which you can solve the problem rather than the specifics of one particular idea.

For example, we ran a workshop with an education-based nonprofit targeted toward helping kids turn into entrepreneurs. We had several goals: to expand awareness of their brand and online student experience, and to improve the online student experience so that it is a holistic, interactive destination for thought leadership and valued information. The ultimate goal was to develop and maintain a long-term, sustained relationship with students, parents, and mentors so that young people are empowered and inspired to take control of their future. As the workshop progressed, several common themes arose that would help guide the direction for designing a better online student experience:

  • Sustain: allow students, parents, and mentors to create and foster long-term relationships with the organization, not just on a program-oriented basis
  • Support: support students throughout their lives,not just while they are in the program
  • Connect: put students in touch with teachers and other students, employers, local groups, and so on
  • Develop: create resources that will foster personal skill development
  • Earn: distribute rewards, badges, and certifications as a result of involvement and accomplishments within the organization

Note that none of these have specific ideas. Essentially, go up a level or two to combine sets of related ideas and think of them more as themes that have room for discussion, ideation, exploration, and iteration. Thinking of broader themes allows teams to focus on the goal and collaborate as a group to come up with an idea together in the steps to come. The ideas that emerge from groups more often than not are better than the original ideas that made up the theme.

In design, it’s often valuable to zoom in on specific ideas and then zoom back out to make sure you are connecting the dots and assure that you are not missing anything. The themes module is how you zoom out or diverge your thinking. It also helps unify the team to think of the output as themes (versus one person’s idea) so they can share ownership of that particular strategic direction. Last, the group work that happens while creating themes and coming up with new ideas within those themes provides a great foundation for the critique and refinement work that comes later.


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