“How can I get better ideas for a problem that I face?” is a question I am often asked these days. First of all, remember that generating ideas with the help of creativity tools is just one part of the creative process. In order to do proper thinking, you first need to understand and define your challenge. Then generate ideas. Next, develop these into meaningful solutions or value propositions, which you then evaluate in order to find those vital few solutions that really deserve being brought to life. At Thinkergy, our proprietary systematic innovation method X-IDEA captures all these essential steps in the five stages Xploration, Ideation, Development, Evaluation and Action.
Back to our initial question: Idea generation is an art. And effective ideation depends on the situation you are in. How important is the problem or challenge that you face? Do you have to solve a problem alone, or can you tackle it in a team? And how much time do you have at hand?
Let’s capture these different contexts in a four-field matrix. On the vertical axis, we distinguish two basic scenarios related to the number of people involved – you’re alone, or you work in a team on the case. On the horizontal axis, we cover the other two aspects. First, decide if whether or not a resolution of your challenge is very important for you or your organization. In the former case, commit sufficient time for the ideation. If the importance is low to medium, than you can cut down your time investment. In result, we end up with four quadrants that suggest you different ideation approaches based on the respective situation.
Scenario 1: The Notebook.
Here you work alone and you need some ideas for a challenge that is not highly important – for example, “How to provide meaningful rewards for highly active participants in a training session?” Start to ideate by listing down at least 25 ideas to your challenge in your idea notebook (buy one if you don’t have one yet – and make sure that it is unlined, blank paper). In addition, use some simple creativity tools (such as Free Association, Word Association Chains or Concept Mapping) to generate some associations that may trigger further ideas. Go on until you reach a number of 50 ideas.
Scenario 2: The Eureka Seeker.
You have already worked for some time on an important individual challenge that you face – say, you are a scientist or a Ph.D. student and need a great idea to solve a tough conceptual problem. As you continue to explore your challenge, collect ideas that come along in your idea notebook. You also may apply some creativity tools such as Metaphors here. In addition, take some time out to engage in imagination exercises (like envisioning yourself in a perfect world where your challenge is resolved), and take notes of any new ideas and insights that may occur to you in result. For example, Albert Einstein used this technique extensively to collect “jigsaw puzzle pieces” that became part of his theory of relativity, thereby imagining himself surfing on a ray of light through time and space.
Finally, if by now you still feel that none of the ideas that you have noted down is the right solution, then you might activate the process of incubation (which was subject of the last article in this column two weeks ago). Let go of your challenge, work on something else, take amble time for relaxing activities and incubate on the solution – and with luck, you will experience your personal Eureka-Moment and get the breakthrough solution to your challenge. Sure, all of this takes time — but aren’t you happy to invest time in an important personal endeavor?
Scenario 3: The Brainstorming Session.
In the third scenario, you work in a team on a challenge of medium importance, like saving costs in face of a temporary economic downturn. Send out an invitation for a 2-3 hours brainstorming meeting to your team member, wherein you brief them about the challenge and ask each member to bring in at least 10 ideas. At the beginning of the session, remind everybody of the four ground rules of ideation, then Brainstorm and do Pool Brainwriting to add to your initial ideas. Thereby, ideally integrate some other creativity tools (like Metaphors or Random Word) to broaden the scope of your ideas. After you have created a sufficient ground stock of ideas – say at least 300 raw ideas – start to turn them into meaningful idea concepts by combining and improving on your most promising raw ideas.
Scenario 4: The Idea Circuit.
In the last scenario, you look for meaningful ideas for a really important challenge that your company faces – like a new product development, customer experience design or strategy innovation project — that is of critical importance for the medium- to long-term success of your firm. Here, your best bet to get some really good ideas is to send your team into a full-fledged idea circuit over the course of one day. Thereby, you expose the ideators to 8-10 creativity tools to great a large pool of raw ideas (here were talking about four digit numbers) that you later develop further into meaningful value propositions. If you have no in-house ideation expert, it really pays to hire an experienced ideation and innovation company such as Thinkergy to facilitate the session and to take care for the process and the selection of effective creativity tools that light up the imaginations of the ideators and stimulate out-of-the-box ideas. It’s like when you have to undergo an important surgical operation — you just want to make sure that the doctor selects the right tools and knows how to handle them to get the job right.
This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on June 18 2009 under the title “Unleash untapped potential by mastering the art of ideation”.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2009.