Gather Around The Pitchfire

December 2, 2014

pitchfireWhat would happen if you treated a well-established, highly successful brand as a startup? That was the central question at the heart of a compelling creative challenge several of us participated in recently. The three-day workshop was put on by a client who brought together big thinkers from all over the company, as well as several outside partners. The result was a wide variety of innovative ideas that will make it into the brand’s business plan for 2016-2018.

The event was really well done, so I thought I’d share how it all came to life.

Day 1: The Pitchfire
More than 50 people showed up armed with an idea. You had 60 seconds to step up to the microphone and pitch it to the group. There’s time to introduce the consumer problem you want to solve and articulate your idea at a very high level. That’s it. One minute, no exceptions. The atmosphere was loose and drinks were flowing, but people took it very seriously. You want to sound smart in front of a large group of colleagues.

Once initial pitches were completed, we began the crowdsourcing phase of narrowing the ideas. All of the concepts we’re placed around the room, and everybody voted for their top three. Anything that met a minimum threshold moved on to the next stage, and we arrived at 14 that were deemed worthy of pursuing. Then you picked the idea you wanted to help bring to life. There was some recruiting involved, but the teams were pretty well-balanced, without much of a need to shift people around.

Each team finished the evening by setting up a workspace and hatching a plan of attack for the following morning.

Day 2: Crunch Time
We had the entire day to develop a business case for our concept. There was brainstorming. There was consumer research, including man-on-the-street interviews and online surveys. We engaged departments throughout the company — R&D, design, marketing, etc. Many teams actually built prototypes. This was a critical step in taking ideas from half-baked to realistic.

Day 3: The Pitch
We spent several hours finalizing details and framing up presentations for a panel of executives from throughout the company. You had three minutes to make your case, including set-up time, followed by a two-minute Q&A. It was kind of like a mashup of NBC’s “Shark Tank” and “The Apprentice.” The atmosphere was supportive, but the judges definitely asked challenging questions. And — make no mistake — everyone wanted to win. Competitive juices were flowing and people took the opportunity to shine in front of their peers and the company’s senior management. The top three teams walked away with nice prizes and some bragging rights.

In the end, I was extremely impressed with the quality of the ideas and presentations. It was amazing to see how much was accomplished in such a short time frame.

Some keys to success:

  • Enlist good facilitators and/or coaches to help run the workshop.
  • Dedicate the necessary amount out time — you can’t short-cut the process or the results will suffer.
  • Invite people from all areas of the company — you never know where a great concept will come from.
  • Eliminate distractions — participants need to be fully engaged.
  • Toss out all assumptions or perceived limitations and truly pretend you are thinking about a startup.

I’d recommend the approach to anyone looking to spark creativity for their business. Big ideas, who’s got ‘em?