Developing Actionable Ideas

“Developing Actionable Ideas: Spinning/Churning”

One of the cornerstones of Compression Planning is the concept of “Spinning/ Churning.” I believe this is possibly the hardest concept for people to master.

When done well, it also serves as the greatest form of Compression you can get from your planning efforts.

First, what is spinning/churning? It’s the art of developing raw thoughts into rich ideas. But, to truly understand this “art” one must understand what an idea actually is.

I Googled “definition of idea” and here is what I came up with:

  1. Something, such as a thought or conception, that potentially or actually exists in the mind as a product of mental activity.
  2. A plan, scheme, or method
  3. The gist of a specific situation
  4. A notion, a fancy
  5. The mental representation of something

The list goes on. A successful Compression Planning session is based on the sharing and generation of well formed ideas, not vague thoughts.

I the definition that fits most ideas people share in typical meetings could best be defined by numbers 3 and 4: a gist, a notion of something.

This doesn’t cut it in a Compression Planning session because most “ideas” are not fully developed concepts one can take action on.

Example: “We need to make our website easy for our customers to navigate.”

This is not an idea…it’s the gist of something. Many ideas start out as what I call a “guiding principle.” Think of it as the spark that starts the fire. You need to work the spark if you are going to do anything with it.

This is where “spinning/churning” comes in. It’s the art of developing a raw idea into something actionable. It is a concept that meets the following criteria:

  1. You can assign it to someone and they know EXACTLY what is expected of them in the implementation of the idea
  2. You can assign a preliminary cost to the idea – is it a low/medium/high cost idea?
  3. You can build a prototype of the idea – draw a chart, a representation, build a small scale model, etc.

It is not easy to get ideas developed to this stage but it can be done. Some things that get in the way of spinning/churning are:

  1. Accepted laziness of thought. Brainstorming, as frequently practiced, gives you lists of one words that end up being descriptors. It’s not common practice to take the time – at the point of sharing an idea – to develop it into something actionable.
  2. “Lazy” printers/documenters. I frequently see printers paraphrase what has been shared by a participant into something that loses all richness and all action. They may try to make it “sound smart” and by doing so, they lose the specific actions that were shared.

The best “idea documenter” I know is Pat McNellis. I asked him to share a few hints that others can use and pass on to their “printers.”

  • Listen for the action. When you hear the verb, start the card with that verb.
  • Be ready to jot down “notes” on a separate card in a quick scribble that captures some of the highlights of the idea being shared.
  • Shoot for a minimum of 8-10 words and know that well spun/churned idea sometimes will be in the range of 12-15 words.

Here are two spinning/churning examples from a library working to be more effective with it’s customers:

Ways our Library can more effectively serve area students: [header]

  1. “Have customer-friendly hours” versus “Be open from noon – 8:00 pm on Sundays during the academic year”
  2. “Adopt a customer friendly attitude” versus ” Develop two, 1-hour orientation programs for local schools on how to use community libraries”
  • Study materials ahead of time to get an understanding of “language” that may not be familiar. You can’t be expected to be a “subject matter expert” but rather get an understanding of words that will probably be used during the session.
  • Ask yourself “Is this something I personally could run with? Do I understand it enough to do something with it?” This is probably the most important one of the five. I figure if I can understand it and run with it, someone with intimate knowledge of the subject matter should certainly be able to implement it!

Now, what does this mean to you, the facilitator?

In this case, “more is not better.” This is not about quantity but rather, quality. Don’t be afraid to slow down the pace of your session. As a matter of fact, expect it.

Know that all printers/documenters are NOT created as “equals.” You’ll have some that are great and some that are, well, in need of taking on a different role in your session. Plan on rotating printers if you find you have someone who excels at paraphrasing or is just plain lazy.

When you find a great printer, treat them like gold. Give them a raise, buy them a beachfront property and give them three months vacation every year.

If you have any questions about spinning and documenting, please drop one of us an email at or

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2 Responses to Developing Actionable Ideas

  1. Daniel December 17, 2010 at 3:40 am #

    great post, thanks for sharing


  1. Brainstorming Series: Laying the Foundation for Rich Ideas - July 19, 2011

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