How to organize an Innovation Day
Includes detailed agenda & downloads
Strategy day for 25 to 250 managers
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All information on this page is designed with large groups in mind. (+100 participants). Most of the exercises can also be applied to small teams, but in a slightly different format. We’ve added as many tips as possible so you can use all material at your own event.
If at some point you would need more info or examples, feel free to reach out via email@example.com.
All tips curated from:
Based on our experience in organising sessions for large global corporates in a variety of industries & contexts.
Suggestions from people in our Linkedin innovation group (+22K people). Thanks all for the feedback!
A brainstorm to bring everyone together?
We’ve co-organised dozens of innovations sessions for large corporates. The driver to set up a large scale workshops could be very different depending on the company and context. Depending on this goal we would focus more on training of new tools or the quality of the final business concepts.
Strategy & New Business development in the lead?
- Goal: Bring skilled managers together to develop multiple innovative business concepts.
- Context: Often this type of brainstorm day fits in a bigger innovation process. The outcome of this session can be transferred to the next stage of this program.
HR & Talent Development in the lead?
- Goal: A selection of high-potentials will work together for 1 day to develop new entrepreneurial skills. Everyone learns new creativity & innovation tools by working on real strategy challenges of the organisation.
- Context: Such an innovation day is often initiated by the in-house academy or training department. We need to coordinate how the context aligns with other development programs.
Strategy Day Agenda
During one day you want to inspire people, use this inspiration to
develop relevant business concepts for the company and learn some new innovation tools along the way. Depending on the overall goal of this day the focus could shift to one of these 3 activities. Just take the following schedule as an example.
Total time needed: 7h, without catering, breaks & network moments.
Kick-off at 8h30 AM – Closing at 6PM.
Intro: Company Innovation Day (0.5h)
- Never ever should an external person do the intro. A C-level person or innovation leader within the organisation should take the stage and thank people to invest their time in this one-day event.
- Potential topics to talk about: Strategic challenges (Corporate vs Startups, New competitors, speed of change,…), Disruption and how to re-invent our own business, Innovation Culture, how the company supports innovation today & tomorrow,…
Warm-up exercise (0.5h)
- Often participants fly in from different locations. Many of them don’t know each other so it’s crucial to have an energizer to get everyone talking. Combined with the introduction this part should set the mindset for the rest of the day. Depending on the location & context we use other exercises:
Inspiration & Brainstorm Techniques (3x 0.5-1h)
- Time is limited but it is realistic to have 3 different rounds to generate +100 post-its per table.
- A combination of templates and tools will help people to step out-their-comfort-zone.
- To get the most valuable output we often ask participants to prepare themselves before they arrive to this session. Sometimes people bring 1 or more ideas on a given template. In other situations, we ask people to read several inspiring articles & cases. This is non-mandatory, but it helps to speed things up during the day.
- As facilitators of creativity brainstorms we bring tons of inspiration:
- Emerging trends (B2B or B2C)
- Societal evolutions & changes in geo-politics
- Next-gen technology
- Upcoming business models & experiments
- Startups to learn from
- Analogy thinking
Develop business concepts (2h)
- We don’t like a creativity day that was all fun & pleasure but didn’t create a tangible output. A summary of the most innovative ideas will be captures on a structured template.
- To get to this step we except from the participants to make a first selection out of all the ideas on the walls & tables. (more on: selection techniques)
- The exact format of this concept card template depends on the goal of this innovation day. Topics that are often included:
- Problem to solve
- Who would be the user and client (often not the same)
- What would be the solution for this problem (product/service)
- How to create & capture value? (Business model)
- Rating: How innovative or disruptive is this concept
- A second list of topics helps to aligns this business concept with the bigger goal of the innovation strategy of the company. This list is always tailored to the session (examples):
- What partnership model would be needed?
- How to enhance the customer experience? (customer-centricity)
- What could be a pricing or go-to-market strategy?
- Expected range (high-level) of investment needed?
- Why will this concept win or fail?
Sharing & pitching of New Project ideas (1h)
- Interaction with other participants is crucial. Depending on the size of the total group different pitching formats are possible.
- Live pitching on stage. In an ideal setup there are only 5 teams that present 3 min, followed by 2 minutes of Q/A. Longer pitches (or more teams) could make the end of a day very exhausting.
- When there are +10 teams there are some alternative formats:
- Cluster teams together: Each team “visits” 3 other teams to share their insights
- Informal pitching: open question to the crowd so some voluntary teams present a summary of their idea.
- A facilitator explains the most relevant highlights from different teams. He or she can point to teams to give a little bit more detail when relevant.
Conclusion & follow-up (0.5h)
- The main message at the end of the day: “This is what will happen next: …”
- Invite someone of the innovation team to explain how all the outputs will be captured
- Show a clear and short term follow-up
- Link to other innovation efforts in the organisation and indicate how people can engage in these initiatives
Warm-up examples & Energizers
Draw your neighbour:
As simple as it sounds, this exercise is one of the best starters. Instantly we pull people out of their comfort zone. It’s a message to everyone they have to ‘create’ things today and not just listen to lectures. On top of that, the picture created is a perfect conversation starter to get to know your fellow participants.
Extra: Put all sketches on the wall near the coffee during the break
What will we laugh with in 20 years?
Trigger the imagination of your participants with a short discussion. Everyone needs to share 1 product or behaviour that will soon disappear. Example: “That it takes years to learn a new language.” – “Petrol cars with a human driver.”
It’s a great warm-up to frame innovation and how products are disrupted. There are always smart kids in the room that share some clever insights. Already from the first moment of the day, participants learned something new!
The 1-sentence intro:
If you’re short on time due to the large amount of participants it’s wise to give a clear structure on how everyone can introduce himself.
Example: “Hi I’m … , I help to create value for company xyz by doing …” Add an extra inspiring element to this sentence.
“The most innovative product of last year was …”
“Before working at this company, I worked at …. If we would copy one thing from my previous employer it would be …”
Brainstorm exercises examples
Analogy thinking: Smart copying
Try to start your innovation day with an easy brainstorm exercise. Ask participants to look beyond industry borders. Often we prepare an inspiration deck with clever business ideas and startup in other domains. These cases are presented on physical cards or via tablet on the tables.
Each table (team) gets 2-3 different cases. On Post-its they write down all the different element that they think is inspiring or innovative. (e.g. Startup X has a smart pricing strategy) In the next step they look for opportunities how to translate these insights to a new product or service idea.
Almost always we receive feedback that people want more time to do this specific exercise. Participants really love this format and would do this for hours if possible.
We have dozens of analogy cards and for every new client or domain we prepare new examples. Feel free to download +50 cases (PDF) to use in your own session.
If you see remarkable cases somewhere, make sure to tip us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to find new business ideas for inspiration?
To make sure we don’t loose any ideas, we use big paper templates to capture all post-its. At the end of the day every team has a collection of large sheets that can be used to create a structured output doc. Download the template (PDF)
extra tip: Add small info-boxes on every template to explain how to use this document. Although a facilitator will always explain how to start the brainstorm, you just know that 20% of participant will miss a part the introduction. They can always fall back on the mini-tutorial on the template.
Customer journey: Start with a discussion (per table) to describe what 1 day or 1 month looks like for a specific client. Use this story to detect new needs. Depending on the format you can explore alternative solutions in the market or brainstorm to find new solutions.
Value Proposition Abstraction: Start this brainstorm from the existing solution. (e.g. We sell pens.) Ask your participants to explore different levels of abstraction. (e.g. Support users to express themselves). This is an easy framework to discover new product ideas.
Technology Triggers: Show your participants that we’re living in the future. Video demos with prototypes & lab tests can really inspire people. But be careful to select tech that is applicable to the domain you’re working in.
We have templates and demo slides for every of the brainstorm formats above (+ many other!). If you need more info, just reach out to us.
Brainstorm: Trends versus Markets
Trends can be a great source of inspiration to look for new opportunities. Every industry is challenged by other disruptions. To kick-off another brainstorm round we start with a short presentation of eye-opening cases showing how the world is changing (relevant to the industry we’re focusing on).
The goal of this exercise is to link a small selection of trends (take 5) with specific market segments of the company. How does a trend (the rise of data protection & privacy) impact a specific market (e.g. students & their parents). Each cross-section between a trend & market will trigger new business ideas or new problems to solve.
Business Concept Development
Idea Selection process
After every brainstorm round we ask people to highlight the most interesting post-its. Sometimes they use small sticky dots to mark smart ideas. Another format could be a mini-booklet that participants use to keep track of clever ideas.
Extra: We encourage people to make an individual selection first before going into a group discussion per table. Everyone gets an ‘idea shopping template’ to handpick the most radical ideas. This work better than a selection by committee where the loudest voice has too much influence.
Before a team can go forward they need to pick at least one more disruptive idea. Important, not everyone needs to agree that this will be smartest idea. Consensus-building is the worst enemy for innovation!
Business Concept Development
Every company has different expectations regarding the outcome of an innovation day. The exact format of this last template really depends on the next steps. (what will happen after this day). Depending on these steps other topics will need to be defined:
- Revenue options
- Fit wit the innovation strategy?
- Disruptive or safe?
Digitalize the outputs? If the output of this day needs to link to an in-house innovation platform, it’s wise to format this template to the structure used on this platform.
Who’s responsible? Ideas need ownership from some of the participants. Every final template needs the (team) name of someone on it, who can be reached afterwards for a follow-up.
Make ideas memorable: Add a sketch on each template. If you have dozens of teams with 2-3 business concepts at the end of this day you need to quickly scan every document. A drawing & catchy title helps to memorise every concept.
Practical tips & Logistics
Have the details right!
There are always skeptics in the room. In order to build trust you need to show commitment. Yes, some flipcharts & stacks of post-its might be good-enough. But in order to create a true innovation experience you need tons of material. (probably 30% of our preparation goes into ‘details’).
- Special lanyards for every facilitator & team
- Custom prints & templates for every exercise (we’ve invested in our own plotter = best decision in years)
- Every team has unique colours & materials on their table
- A lot of props: e.g. dices, bells, special markers, fake money to vote, tablets, welcome cards,…
Structure & timing
Be very strict on your time management! Often we dry-run exercises to check if for this specific company & context the given brainstorm trigger works. We never mess up our timing! People make plans for after your day ends. Don’t steal 15min of all your participants’ time because you couldn’t manage a large crowd.
The last impression people will have of the organisation needs to be: “wow, what an amazing day! I want to be 100% on innovation from now on!”
Detailed time slots & buffers
The larger the crowd, the more detailed your time schedule will be. (up to 5min exact if possible). During the day you need to be flexible. Check where you can skip a step during an exercise or give more time to extend valuable discussions. But be strict on breaks!
- Ideally every table has 4-5 people with a mixed background. Be strict on this. You don’t want teams of 10 people where half of the group is lost after 1 round. This will not work!
- You need 1 facilitator per 6 tables
- Don’t compromise on the location. Never organise an innovation day within the company walls. People will skip a session to have an urgent meeting, will have a hard time to get into the right mindset, and so on…
- Involve the technical crew as early as possible in the design of the day. A lousy microphone, misplaced beamer setup, noisy room,… there are dozens of small technical elements that can completely ruin the overall experience.
- Relax: There is always a lot of pressure. Murphy is just around the corner but don’t let that impact the overall organisation. Be flexible and positive. A creative solution fits a creativity day, right? Good luck!
Co-design your innovation day?