Thinking through digital innovation before you start creating initiatives

This blog was posted by Tom Beardshaw on January 14, 2015 as part of the CultureHive Digital Marketing Academy. You can find out more about the project here.

In thinking about what to blog about, I reflected on the topics that came up in the mentoring sessions that I’ve had with the Fellows I’ve been working with, and it was clear that in the early stages of the Digital Marketing Academy, they were struggling with knowing what to do…  generating meaningful ideas that relate to their organisation’s goals. So a lot of the early conversations that I had at that stage involved helping them with innovation models and processes that they could use, either with themselves, or colleagues that they wanted to bring into the work.

A common problem that I encountered was similar to something I come across with NativeHQ clients frequently… they have an idea of what they want to do (or they’re in the middle of trying something), and they want our help. I typically start with a question: “Why are you doing this?”… and all too often, they are unable to articulate the problem they’re trying to solve, or the goal they have in mind. The initiative is often disconnected with their mission. The other problem I come across is that what they’re trying to do is a massively over complicated way to achieve their aims, and there is a simpler, more effective way of doing it!

For some reason, this happens all too often within digital work… shiny new platforms and capabilities can dazzle us. We become focussed on using these new technologies instead of developing ideas from creative thinking that starts at a clear understanding of the problem the client is trying to solve, the mission or strategy of the organisation, or the goal they’re trying to achieve. Digital technology can be a massive time sink… there just isn’t time (especially in the cash strapped arts) to spend time on things that aren’t organisational priorities.

I use the problem-ideation-solution model of innovating ideas for digital initiatives… it’s best to start with really understanding the problem, then moving on to creative ideation (idea generation), and then you develop the ideas you want to go with, then get on with it. This can help you be confident that you’re responding to a real need in the organisation and using the best ideas you can create before you start putting things into place… a really solid basis for moving forward confidently.

We have a method for thinking these things through that we call our “4P method”. Yes, it confuses marketers… maybe we can call it The New 4P or something like that. We break down the networks that you’re working with, and for each major network category, we think through Purpose, Possibilities, People and Platforms. Purpose is about problem definition – what are we trying to achieve? Possibilities is a heading for time spent creatively thinking about what we could do to fulfill these purposes… these are the “problem” and “ideation” parts of the innovation process. Then People helps you think through who will need to be involved and Platforms allows you to choose the most suitable digital tools for the job.

There are some great questions and tools you can use during this type of process, and in the early stages of my mentoring work, I spent quite a bit of time introducing the Fellows to some of them. I’ve mentioned The New 4P method, and a good question to ask in the Purpose stage is “what are we trying to achieve?”. You can explore this further with 4 Whys… just ask why four times, answering each and then questioning each subsequent answer with “why?” again. This will help you uncover your core motivation and purposes… and check that it’s related to what the organisation’s trying to achieve.

Coming up with possibilities requires a bit of setting up… getting the right people into the room, creating an environment conducive to free flowing creativity and generating lots of ideas, and then using something like Osborn’s Checklist to develop these ideas into really good ideas for initiatives.

My aim as a Mentor is to equip Fellows to be able to come up with and develop good digital ideas beyond the Digital Marketing Academy, and it’s always worth spending some time thinking it through before you start the doing. The world of digital media contains so many possibilities, and it’s easy to be distracted by new technologies, so it’s essential that before you start the doing, you’ve done the thinking about why and what it is that you’re going to be doing.

Tom BeardshawTom Beardshaw, Digital Marketing Academy Mentor


1 Comment

  1. […] ideation, the process of generating and combining ideas for solutions. You can read my post, “Thinking through digital innovation before you start creating initiatives” on the CultureHive Digital Academy […]

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