Decision Analyst’s Imaginators®: An Insiders View of the Online Ideation Process
by Gretchen Riskind

  • Asymmetric Ideation

    I’ve been a qualitative researcher at Decision Analyst for a year now, and when in meetings with our clients or when designing research proposals I often hear my colleagues talk about using Decision Analyst’s Imaginators®.

    As an experienced ideation leader, I’ve been waiting “patiently” for my opportunity to try it out. A few weeks ago, I finally got my chance when I was asked to lead an Imaginators® session for an internal project. My assignment was to generate new at-home entertainment activities, ideas, and services for consumers.
So, What Is Imaginators®?

Imaginators® is Decision Analyst’s exclusive innovation community. It is made up of highly creative individuals who rank in the top 4% of the population in terms of idea-centric creativity. They are tested and trained using Decision Analyst’s proprietary testing system based on the works of Dr. E. Paul Torrance, the world’s leading authority on adult creativity, and Dr. Edward de Bono, the leading authority on creative thinking.

This is not a stagnant community; members are engaged monthly through their participation in multiple creative exercises. Their contributions are assessed after each engagement. Low performers are “retired” and replaced with newly trained individuals to ensure that the most creative group is available for research and innovation sessions.

Our approach to using Imaginators® for ideation sessions is customized to best fit the needs of each project and client. Depending on our clients’ goals, timing, and desired engagement level:

  • Sessions with Imaginators® can be designed in conjunction with other audiences
    • Internal stakeholders – marketing, sales, consumer insights, etc.
    • External partners – PR agency, ad agency, etc.
    • General consumers or consumers with category/brand experience
    • Industry experts – chefs, bloggers, contractors, etc.
  • Sessions often include a multi-method (or multi-phase) approach
    • Because every method has its strengths and weaknesses, a hybrid approach provides a more comprehensive perspective, which translates into strategic action.
Putting Imaginators® (and a Time-Extended™ online approach) to the test

My experience leading ideation sessions has always been live, so I was curious and excited to see how using a Time-Extended™ online approach for the ideation session would work. With the help of my Insights & Innovation team, we invited 10 high-performing members from the Imaginators® Community to participate in a three-day online board.

Prior to the ideation session, we conducted a survey among consumers to understand how their attitudes and behaviors about at-home entertainment has changed over the last six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the findings from the consumer survey, we chose four insight themes to use as grounding for the ideation session:

  1. TV and movie watching (including Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, etc.) is getting old and is bringing consumers less joy.
  2. There is a lack of creativity and novelty in the game category. Consumers are getting bored with the “usual suspects,” and new options are limited.
  3. Interacting remotely with friends and family is feeling more distant and unfulfilling—consumers are “Zoomed out.”
  4. Physical activities are a key source of joy for consumers today—they crave more entertainment options physical activities that are safe.

The first two days of the ideation session were designed to generate as many ideas as possible. We modified two ideation activities (Breaking the Rules and SCAMPER) to better fit the asynchronous approach (The asynchronous approach is where respondents can log on at a time of their own choosing when it’s convenient for them during the data collection process). Instructions were included for members to return to the board throughout the two days to build on each other’s ideas. Day three was designed to prioritize and further optimize ideas with the most potential. After everything was set up, the board was launched, and I waited in anticipation to see the results!

What worked and what I learned (for next time)

The introduction activity set the tone for the whole session. While warm-up activities and creative icebreakers are always important when leading ideation sessions, our introduction activity proved to be even more important than I thought. Due to the asynchronous approach, we knew that actively encouraging members to build on each idea was going to be the key to generating a strong output. With that in mind, we started the session with an online version of “Have you ever?” This activity worked well to get members interacting with each other. But even more, the members continued to add to the activity over the three days and we ended up bonding through our shared personal stories, which made for a better and more positive session overall. It was also a good reminder that when leading a Time-Extended™ ideation session, creating meaningful opportunities for members to interact and build empathy for each other is critical to a successful session when live interactions are not possible.

Imaginators® members generated a lot of great ideas. At the end of day two, they generated 120+ rich, detailed entertainment ideas. Each included: a name, a brief description, who it is for, and how it is better than today’s current entertainment. A few of my favorites included:

  • Smart Home Board Games. Connect with a smart home system to provide real consequences while playing; e.g., lights or turning on music or the TV. It can also move game pieces when playing with friends or family remotely.
  • Scavenger Hunt TV. Local clues are provided each week to solve a mystery. The answer is revealed in the next episode.
  • Play It Forward. A game where players earn rewards that they can pay forward to charities, shelters, or locals in the community.
  • Buoyant Sea Facility. Consists of several enclosed lanes (like a bowling alley) with different water activities like a slip-and-slide for adults (maybe with some pins at the end), snorkeling with virtual ocean creatures, etc.

10-12 participants felt like an ideal size for the session. Again, due to our approach, we chose to have all members participate in the same activities at their convenience (vs. breaking out into smaller groups). The size of the group worked well as members were able generate and build on each other’s ideas without the board feeling overwhelming.

Leading this session was a bit different than leading live sessions. I quickly learned that my role as the leader was a bit different. While the members were very encouraging and positive toward each other, it seemed the activities that I participated in with them—e.g., cheering them on, probing questions, and building on their ideas—tended to generate more ideas and more interaction between members.

The HatchTank platform did not disappoint.

The new platform we were testing for this session was HatchTank. I found the platform to be extremely user-friendly, and it provides the functionality and flexibility needed to meet the demands of any online ideation session. Some of its key tools and features that I found to be most useful for online ideation (asynchronous or live) include the ability to:

  • Easily share stimulus (photos, videos, activities).
  • Create smaller groups within the larger participant group.
  • Create rotations easily for creative activities and for prioritizing ideas.
  • Create image or text polls for power voting.
  • Have multiple moderators.

3-5 days is an ideal length of time to conduct a Time-Extended™ online ideation session with Imaginators®. Some considerations that were helpful when building the timeline included:

  1. Allow at least 2 days for idea generation. Because some members logged on in the evening, a lot of the idea building happens on day two.
  2. Build in time to organize the generated ideas in an easy format prior to prioritizing and optimization. While HatchTank has some great voting tools, there is a bit of setup that needs to be done ahead of time.
  3. Because the asynchronous approach is a bit more rigid than a live session, it is also important to build in some extra time to make any needed changes or clarifications to the instructions and/or activities.

Everyone had fun!

In addition to delivering on our assignment, I was excited (and relieved) to see that the members really enjoyed the session as much as I did. Let’s be honest, the quickest way to ruin an ideation session is to make it dull and boring. The following are some of the members’ comments from the session.

“I think everyone did a great job of engaging. Everyone seemed to be really eager to share and build.”

“Wow, I really loved this session! I really enjoyed all the different brilliant ideas and how we combined them into even more amazing ones. I think it was just the right size of people to come up with great ideas.”

“I enjoyed the rather wide alley these questions lived in. Sometimes surveys consist of the same question asked ten different ways, with only subtle differences. This time, the options were limited only by one’s imagination. I also loved the dynamic between participants. There was a lot of interaction! Keep ‘em coming.”

“I really enjoyed this session as everyone seemed excited and ready to build on other’s ideas. And so many great ideas!! This time it seemed I got a lot more email about comments being made which was fun and drew me to the boards more often.”

Final Thoughts

I would give Imaginators® an A+ for this assignment and the Time-Extended™ online approach was an effective way to engage with Imaginators® members. For future research initiatives, I can easily see this type of approach being valuable:

  • As part of a wider range of participants (e.g., client business team) for ideation sessions.
  • To generate ideas prior to a client workshop.
  • As part of consumer research when more creative-minded individuals are needed.

Interested in learning more about Decision Analyst’s Imaginators® or about the findings from the ideation session? Send us an email; we would love to set up a time to talk!

About the Author

Gretchen Riskind ( is a Director of Innovation, at Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-817-640-6166.

This posting may not be copied, published, or used in any way without written permission of Decision Analyst.