News & Views

Opinion / Waiting for the God Idea

by Dan Southern

Keeping your ears pricked for the ‘God Idea’ in workshops is a useful way of ensuring that everyone’s on track and that brainpower isn't being wasted. Dan Southern, senior consultant for Contagious Insider, explains

At Contagious Insider, we’re frequently facilitating workshops for our clients or being invited to play the role of ‘agitator’, bringing the outside in and offering a fresh perspective. We also use workshops internally to explore new opportunities or to work our way through challenges. Used in the right context and with appropriate preparation, they’re a powerful way of working.

They are, of course, no guarantee of success and some sessions will take you and your fellow workshoppers further along to reaching a great outcome than others. Over the past few years, as we’ve honed our skills and become more experienced, we’ve learnt more about what helps workshops progress and what doesn’t.

One thing I’ve started to do in workshops where we’re working toward a business solution or service innovation is to listen out for the emergence of what I call the ‘God idea’. Rather than seeking out the divine for worship though, a godly appearance is more likely to be a cause for momentary concern.

God ideas tend to sound almighty and all-consuming, and there are four roughly defined characteristics:

  • An all-in-one place / magic box approach to multiple needs or problems
  • Over-promise of delivery (“we do do it all”) matched to an...
  • ...overstated impact for a customer or end-user (“...and they don’t have to do a single thing”)
  • The ‘what’ is focused on, rather than the ‘how’

Ideas with all or some of these characteristics can gain plenty of enthusiasm and support (possibly with merit). However in our experience, God Ideas, if left unaddressed, are also more likely to be impractical, and lack insight into the user/customer and business. As a result, they're difficult to take further and can distract from more focused ideas that stand a better chance of being realistically developed post-workshop. Which means leaving a lot of brainpower left wasted on the workshop walls.

Here are five ways to get all Dawkins on yo’ workshops:

1 / Brief beyond broadness /

If God ideas are emerging frequently it’s probably time to address your workshop design. Are you clearly articulating the task at hand? Are your participants being exposed to the right user or market insights? It’s understandable to desire divergent thinking when in search of a broader array of ideas, but this needs to be balanced with ensuring that the overall objective isn’t being left behind. Make sure you work in time during your preparation to reflect on your briefs and to ensure they're pointed enough to produce specific, not sprawling, ideas.

2 / Factor in the time /

God ideas are often the result of rushing. Being realistic about what can be achieved in the time you have with a group is vital, so ensure that you’re sensible with what you’ve got in the planning stages. Thinking of the how is a more complex process than the what and so teams need to be given the time to explore this. Also be clear with teams about the time they have, and how they might spend it wisely.

3 / Check your teams /

If you’re forming teams, then we favour making them multi-disciplinary. God ideas are more likely to emerge when there’s a narrow base of lenses through which to look at the challenge, so try to ensure that there’s a mix of stakeholders and skills from different parts of the business. By having groups work with different perspectives and capability-types, a healthy dose of practical thinking should emerge and hopefully ensure that God ideas are distilled into more practical packages.

4 / Remember to push /

Facilitators aren’t in the room just to keep an eye on the clock and set the agenda. It’s vital that they draw ideas and insights out from participants and so if a God idea emerges, it’s their responsibility to address it head on. That of course shouldn’t involve just shutting it down, as there may well be the nugget of a fantastic solution within. However, encouraging the participants to articulate clearly the ‘how’ will help to surface the idea’s weaknesses and strengths.

5 / Prototype! /

Ok, it’s pretty fashionable to talk about prototyping in workshops, especially in a world where storyboards don’t suffice. (We’ve covered the benefits of prototyping here, courtesy of Made by Many’s Stuart Eccles). God ideas have the power to be particularly seductive when presented in workshop settings, but prototyping quickly puts these ideas to task and can rapidly highlight impracticalities (and fresh opportunities), from both the user’s perspective and that of the business.

Ultimately, by listening out for God ideas, you can ensure your workshops take you further and that great brainpower doesn’t go to waste. 


Insider is Contagious’ dedicated culture and capabilities unit, delivering services that equip brands and agencies to create more Contagious work.

For more on workshopping, read Five Great Lessons in Workshop Facilitation.