Unlock the real power of ideation: Review

“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers”, Pablo Picasso

There was a cartoon doing the rounds recently that showed a person celebrating Guru Poornima by praying to Google. This is what augmentation of human capabilities means. What Picasso said is true. Google is better than us when it comes to getting answers. Information is only a search away.

Artificial Intelligence is powering several corporations and making them more powerful than we realize. Facebook can identify you even when you don’t show your face. Voice commands are going to get more common. Alexa (Amazon’s home assistant) has no problem recognizing my Indian accent. You can use Google’s voice assistant or Apple’s Siri to do a host of tasks. These capabilities will get better. The only thing machines cannot do (yet) is do creative work. They cannot ask great questions. They cannot play “What-If” games with you.


Sridhar’s book “Unlock The Real Power of Ideation” (Power of Ideation for short) explores the reason why bright managers are not able to think differently. Ideation sessions don’t always yield the outcomes that led to the offsite in the first place. Sridhar has had 25 years at Ogilvy and Mather during which time he set up their Direct Marketing unit. But he is best known for his creativity workshops. This book is the outcome of the insights gained during the workshops.

Power of Ideation is written like a fable. If you have read the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, then you will recognize the style. It is a conversation between the author and a skeptical CEO who dismisses ideation workshops as useless. What follows is an interesting step by step guide that you could use to run an ideation workshop yourself.

Sridhar outlines seven keys that are needed to unlock the real power of ideation. The Master key is to define what you want ideas for. This is the best chapter of the book where Sridhar demonstrates two alternative approaches to define the problem.

“In in my ideation sessions, there are three key players. The first is the problem owner or client who wants ideas to solve a problem. The second is the facilitator – me – who designs and manages the process. The third are the participants in the session. I call them advisors.”

The book outlines the manner in which the process has to be managed. There are checklists and sample questions that you can use. Some methods like 5W+1H are time tested methods of asking questions to learn more about a scenario. Being able to ask Who, What When, Where, Why and How helps to build a greater understanding of the problem.

The way the problem is defined often determines the solutions that will emerge. “How can we prevent traffic jams in the city?” is different from asking, “What are ways of encouraging public transportation in the city?”. Or “How can we incentivize the offices to adopt remote-working?” – the problem definition is the key to the outcome. This is the Master Key that unlocks the power of ideation.

The book is a great compilation of tools and techniques that you could use to trigger ideas in your team. Facilitating an ideation workshop is all about walking a tight rope. One needs to balance the divergent process when no idea (however wild) is taboo and the convergent process when the path of execution is identified. Groups very often identify terrific options during workshops, but then stop short of choosing a bold approach. That means being able to deal with organizational politics and silos that one needs to align before the change takes place. Maybe that will be the next book Sridhar will write.