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Rumble On: An Alternative Approach to Idea Generation

A few weeks back, Trellist hosted its first event at the annual Philly Tech Week. We called it Technically Challenged, and it was an open invite for technologists, creatives, strategists, and entrepreneurs to compete in a rapid ideation and prototyping exercise – with a stash of tech-forward prizes up for grabs. It was one of many great evenings spent at Philly Tech Week. And for me, the event was a real eye-opener.

Twenty-six motivated participants – flanked by forty-five or so curious onlookers and judges – were arranged into six teams with just over an hour to complete the challenge. They were presented with a fictitious business case, then went off and developed a solution using only simple craft materials and their collective brain power.

Observing the teams in action and watching the final presentations, I couldn’t help but think this type of format – and its core constraints – had the potential to be a difference maker in business environments of all shapes and sizes.

Here are a few things I took away from the event – considerations that might benefit productivity and creativity in your neck of the woods:

Less clock makes for better outcomes

In business, time is often a double-edged sword. We want a lot of it to do our work, but we rarely use it wisely.

At Technically Challenged, the participants had only ninety minutes to come together, generate ideas rapidly, create their prototype, and present their work to the judges and audience. What they came up with in this short period of time was impressive. The presentations were incredibly polished and well-sequenced. One of the teams even arranged their time in the spotlight to include a skit.

What does this tell us? In reality, sometimes we do our best work and make smart, instinctual choices when time isn’t on our side. Think of ways to add timed challenges and impromptu projects into your business model – their effectiveness may surprise you.

Unfamiliarity breeds contentment

Here you had teams of five to six people who didn’t know each other when they walked through the door. Surprisingly, it took them only a few minutes to jell.

Unlike university or corporate environments, where study groups and project teams develop a unique dynamic over time – one that often favors the most extroverted and outspoken individuals – the teams at Technically Challenged quickly realized that rapid idea generation and opinion evaluation were critical to finishing their prototype in time. There were no major power struggles.

This suggests that applying randomized, impromptu team structures on a weekly or monthly basis can bring new enthusiasm and heightened focus to even the most mundane tasks.

Cross-generation collaboration works

There’s a general misconception that innovation in this new age of bootstrapped startups belongs only to the twenty-somethings. Add to that a cultural bias against older generations whose lives aren’t rooted firmly in technology, and you might think we’re on the brink of a generational turf war.

Refreshingly enough, the pool at Technically Challenged featured an impressive cross-section of Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. These generations can, and do, work together better than you might think.

In a way, it’s the ideal gap control. The Millennials understand the digital lifestyle because it’s their natural environment. The Gen X population is ready to take over leadership roles and poised to make their mark. And years of trial and error gives Boomers the strength of perspective, a prized intangible.

Foster an environment of respect and communication, and you’ll find productive working relationships across these generations. When they click, it’s fascinating to watch.

You can catch a video recap of Technically Challenged now on our YouTube page. We love to talk business strategy, so don’t hesitate to start a conversation by following us on Twitter @trellist , liking us on Facebook , or connecting with us via

About Trellist

Trellist is a professional services firm delivering performance-driven business solutions that are flexible, innovative and optimized to maximize efficiency and return. The firm consults on, and integrates, data with marketing, design, technology and digital services for clients at the global, national and regional level. Trellist utilizes a unique approach to business—from the firm's employee-shared structure, to how it partners with its clients. 

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