Toolkit Tuesday: The Opportunity Space

Oct 09, 2018
Chris Flanagan

Truth be told, we’re not big fans of brainstorming sessions. You know the kind: you’re forced to sit at a table with a group of people you don’t know, given a whiteboard or flip chart and asked: “come up with ideas to catalyze the future of work.” Everyone looks to the other, hoping someone will take the lead. A few heavy sighs later, someone picks up the sharpie and tries to solicit something of merit. More often than not, the group devolves into good conversation, the best elements of which never get captured, and the ultimate outcome is a list of disconnected phrases or ideas that go nowhere. But hey, you might have made a new connection or two!

Ok, we’re being a bit over-dramatic but the point is, brainstorming sessions are only as good as the pre-work you put into them. People need context, history, flavors, players, and inspiration to noodle upon and create something worthy of taking the next step toward prototyping. That’s where the concept of an “Opportunity Space” is invaluable.

What’s an opportunity space you say?  It’s a framing vehicle that defines what you know, what you can do and what you want. It’s also defined by the outside world and in particular unmet needs of the customer and trends in the market.

Want an example? Recently, we facilitated a 4-city design-thinking roadshow that brought a diverse group of community, education and policy stakeholders together to brainstorm how to create better pathways from education to the workforce. In lieu of simply asking the question, we created a set of defined opportunity spaces to help support the ideation process.

Here’s one of them:

The poster itself, which took time to research, served many purposes:

  1. It anchored the brainstorming with a concrete question.
  2. It provided context to the question with data, trends, and explanation for why the question is important to answer.
  3. It provided inspiration examples to spearhead big and bold thinking.
  4. It offered some ideation starters to guide different avenues of thought.

Now compare this to just simply asking the question, “How might we create better pathways from education to the workforce?”

Next time you run a brainstorming session, consider bringing an Opportunity Space visualization with you. It will go a long way to raising the effectiveness bar of time spent and garner better results.


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