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Win Innovation Workshop Guide

~ Deepa & Milind Soman

We ran a workshop on the 4th and 5th of June. It was below par? The client gave us a ‘very good’/ ‘excellent’ rating but it still didn’t feel like a ‘win’. We have seen better workshops with more energy and bigger ideas. When we prepared a mind-map of 4 similar innovation workshops, we noticed themes that make for a successful innovation workshop. This workshop of early June lacked some ingredients of the “secret sauce”. The participants profile was not diverse. The senior leaders did not attend big parts of the session. We had a workshop in their office. Participants did not attend any consumer immersions.

On the 28th and 29th of June we are running an innovation workshop with another client. We know that it is going to be a win. The clients, the chef, consumers, the VC team – everyone’s invested and are going to attend. This innovation workshop is a high stakes affair – pardon the pun! Consumers will participate and we are using an external venue. All the right ingredients and looks like we will win!

This piece is a quick and dirty guide for workshop facilitators and for clients on how to execute a win innovation workshop. How do you measure “win”? Each client has their own definition and metrics. What does “win” exactly mean for your client? Ask!


Ask – Why are we doing the innovation workshop? What’s the context? What is the innovation culture of the company? How do they run their ideation and innovation process? How does New Product Development work? Do they have a team that works on innovation? Who owns innovation? How did they do it last? What worked? What didn’t? What are their fears about running this workshop? How will you measure success? What outcomes are you seeking? Who will own the outcomes & drive the initiatives to their logical conclusion? ‘I want 10 ideas to populate the innovation funnel said one client’. Clear and specific.


If the client knows you or has a referral, it helps. If they don’t, it is necessary to build trust before the workshop can begin. Trust is vital. Make sure to get client testimonials, share powerful stories of your workshop experiences. Talk about outcomes. Confidence in the facilitator and their process is critical for getting the innovation workshop. If you sense mistrust initially, have a conversation to build it.  Don’t commission or accept work if you sense mistrust and doubt. Mistrust, lack of confidence, mid-course second-guessing is  like going into the restaurant kitchen to discuss the recipe with the chef while 12 guests are seated at the table. It’s disrupts and puts the project in jeopardy and its unprofessional.


Once the client gives us a sign-off, have a call or meet with client to tape up details on the what/ why/ when/ where and how. There is need for complete and real time two-way access with “reach out anytime to discuss”. Having open conversations always helps.


A detailed agenda including ice-breakers and activities is important. Even if you are a spontaneous facilitator, its helps to be prepared with a few back up activities up your sleeve. Some activities in the agenda may take longer while some may be fast. Planning includes the pre-work, activities during the workshop days and post workshop synthesis and closures. It may include activities that need organisation, operations, synthesis of past researches, acquiring samples, creating stations for consumer experience, consumer immersions and adjacent category discussions. Think through the activities and make sure that you are going to fit them in the time. Inspite of having a detailed plan on paper, be ready to plan ‘on-the-fly’ as situations may change during execution of the workshop.

Consumer immersions:

Participants must have opportunities to meet at least four consumer interactions before the workshop. Meet them in their setting – in their homes, stores, farms or chambers. They need guidance before they embark on their consumer immersions to observe, listen, dialogue and capture their observations. They need to be curious and interested and they need to invest time. Live consumer immersions help bring alive the “Who” we are innovating for.

Participants and participation:

How many participants and who are they? What functions? What seniority? Who is the senior-most people in the participants list? How can we ensure they attend till the end of the two-day session? What about the other participants? Who will participate? What functions do they represent? What external teams will be include? Is the team adequately multi-disciplinary and eclectic? A diverse group of 20 to 25 internal and external participants is ideal. Do we have people from other businesses who have an ‘insider-outsider’ view on your business? Have you invited your external partners – fragrance house/ advertising agency/ research partners/ food technologist/ design agency/ domain expert?


The right venue away yet accessible from the client workplace, rules like no laptops and no mobile phones. In one win-workshop, the CEO put away his laptop and mobile phone and announced that any mobile phone ringing would attract a fine of Rs. 500/- Everyone followed him.

Attitude and Mindset: 

Openness, playfulness and fun around the workshop purpose is key. How vested are the participants in the outcomes? how passionate/ enthusiastic/ committed are they? The client stakeholder needs to ‘sell’ the workshop internally. They need to create buzz and build energy and make it an event one where participation is a badge of honour or to a rookie, a rite of passage.

Left Brain, Right Brain:

Live workshop illustrators bring an interesting visual language to the ideation. They inject a sense of urgency to the idea  by drawing it out. It helps the individual or team to bring their idea alive and make it tangible. Great live illustrators make caricatures and portraits which lighten up the structured thinking sections in the innovation

Post workshop synthesis:

Capturing all the observations, ideas, themes, concepts real-time or before the workshop ends is critical. An immediate closure when the workshop ends so there is no loss of information and energy. The workshop should ideally seamlessly transition into ideas that are detailed out clearly with output sheets that are concepts ready to be consumer tested with minor work.


The facilitators ‘own the process’ while clients ‘own the outcomes’. Do not allow for dilution of the process as it can adversely impact outcomes. The client who asked for 10 ideas, got 240 ideas at the end of day 1. We sorted the ideas into themes and identified 25 big opportunities and worked on fleshing out 12 big ideas with multiple renditions. In the next week we met the client to help craft a few into concepts for consumer testing. This innovation workshop was above par! The business leader and key stakeholder attended from start to closure and participated till the end! We had co-created a win workshop.

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