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Idea Generation

by Michael on March 31, 2009

Idea Generation is one of the stages in any innovation process. There are many techniques that can be used for idea generation but how do you know which one is the right one?

Set the Context
Most likely, the right method to use for idea generation is based on the context and reason you are generating ideas. Take time to understand what problem we are really trying to solve. “Creating the Problem” is one way to think about this part of the process.

Develop the Question
Once the reason or context is known it’s a good idea to ‘develop the right question’ to focus your idea generating processes. What question will drive your idea creation process?

Generate Ideas
In many idea generating processes the goal is lots of ideas – without evaluating or judging the merit of those ideas.

In the book, Permanent Innovation, we outline a number of different ways to approach the idea generation phase of an innovation process.

There are six major categories of ideation processes to consider:

  1. The Universal Search Methods
  2. Trend Gathering
  3. Idea Hunting
  4. Problem/Solution Finding
  5. Outside in and Peer to Peer
  6. Future Dreaming

Within each of these categories we offer a total of 44 different ‘methods’ to generate ideas.

Eliminate Ideas
After generating the ideas there will likely be a process of ‘eliminating’ those ideas that might not be suitable in this context. We view the elimination process as a creative act as well (there is a lot of creativity in figuring out what to eliminate!).

Here’s a simple technique to consider using in a meeting where brainstorming is one of the agenda items:

The purpose of brainstorming in a group is to gather the greatest number of ideas possible. A little quirk of the human mind, however, is called “anchoring” – we are heavily influenced by our first impression of things. Therefore the first idea tossed out in a group setting tends to lead the group down a particular path of thinking and creativity, eliminating a huge range of options that might have been considered with a different “first idea” as a starting point. To minimize this problem, start a brainstorming session by having everyone in the group brainstorm a list of ideas individually on their own sheet of paper. Then start the group brainstorming session. As the energy around one idea path winds down, ask for someone else to call out one of the ideas they wrote down – this will seed another round of group brainstorming.

Assignment: At your next brainstorming meeting, take five minutes at the beginning of the brainstorming to have everyone write down their own ideas first.

Put these ideas up where everyone can see them and then continue the brainstorming as a group. Try to generate as many new ideas as a group as were created by the individuals working separately. It’s important for the group to push itself past the hard spots where it gets hard to think of new things. At this point it’s tempting to give up and the stretches of silence may feel embarrassing. But push through the embarrassment and the silence and keep adding ideas. Even silly ones. Just don’t stop. Good ideas are not a dime a dozen. They’re not easy to come up with. It takes a lot of work—more than most people realize. There are times that feel like failure and these must be worked through. Everyone in the group needs to transcend any emotions that would make them quit. If the group gets totally stuck, grab one of the ideas that’s already been generated and ask, “what other ideas does this make us think of?” Remember that a professional photographer may take 20 or more pictures to get one that really captures the subject. It may take 50, 60 or 70 ideas from the group to find one that is the best. Edison tested over 1,000 different kinds of filaments for his light bulb before choosing one. Diligence and dogged determination will usually win out over technique when it comes to brainstorming.

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Dan Barrie April 8, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Hi there,
I was wondering if you would like to put my blog under your innovation links, just started a new one called innobunny. Check it out and if you want ill put a link for permanent innovation on my site.

Thanks Dan

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