Idea Generation: our favourite tried and tested techniques

By Michael Watkins

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Ideas are the fuel that drives your innovation strategy.

That’s why we like to think of idea generation as a funnel: you want it as wide as possible at the top. The more ideas you put in – when combined with a structured idea management process – the more value you’ll get out.

What is idea generation?

Idea generation or ideation is the act of forming ideas. It is a creative process that encompasses the generation, development and communication of new thoughts and concepts, which become the basis of your innovation strategy.

As an individual activity, idea generation techniques are a great way to shake up your routine and spark new thoughts. As a collective or organisation, structured ideation can be transformative as a tool for problem solving and collaboration.

Why is idea generation important for businesses?

All innovation starts with a great idea, but one idea tends to come from many. Even if your business is using idea management software to collect and evaluate ideas, you might find that everyone needs a little challenge, or inspiration, to get them into the routine of constantly contributing ideas.

By exploring new idea generation techniques, you can give your team the creative tools they need to generate ideas in any situation. From games, to challenges, to concepts, these are just a few of the techniques used by the world’s greatest minds when they need to come up with ideas themselves:

1. Mind mapping

A traditional mind map is one of many fantastic idea generation techniques. It is a way to lay out all the critical information surrounding your innovation challenge, and can help you start to combine ideas in new and useful ways.

As you expand on your central theme, you’ll make connections that build on each other, helping you to reach unexpected conclusions. Plus, mind maps enable you to follow multiple strings of thought at the same time, allowing ideas to flow and merge more easily.

To take your mind maps to the next level, make sure you use a large canvas and small text to maximise space. Colours and images help to stimulate your imagination, so try drawing ideas instead of writing them. You can use a mind map on your own or with a team, which makes it the perfect tool for your next brainstorming session.

2. First Principles Design

When you strip your area of investigation back to its first principles, you can bypass traditional solutions in order to reach exciting new conclusions. It’s all about not simply doing things the same way because that’s how other people have been doing it.

Start by making a list of all the things you think you know about your subject. Then, for each entry, ask yourself how and why you know this piece of information. Were you told it? Did you experience it for yourself? What is the evidence that supports this idea?

Once you’ve established what is real, you’ll know what is possible, and you can work from there.

To quickly learn more about first principles, take a look at this blog.

3. Collaborative Innovation

No two people ever look at the same problem in exactly the same way, thanks to our different backgrounds, knowledge-bases, skillsets and experiences. That’s why collaboration is so essential when it comes to generating ideas. By combining different insights, you can reach conclusions that address a wide variety of different priorities and points of view. This will always lead to a stronger and more inclusive solution.

However, it’s often not enough to collaborate with the people around you. To uncover innovative ideas, you need to get out of your comfort zone and work together with people from a broad range of different backgrounds. Collaborative innovation is a lot like networking, but instead of looking for a job or new sales leads, you are searching for new perspectives that can help you understand your subject on a different level. 

To truly challenge your mindset, try working with personnel from different departments and business units both inside and outside your own organisation.

PRO TIP: An idea management tool can improve collaboration on innovative ideas and help you develop novel concepts at scale. Find our everything that you need to know about idea management softwares out there. 

4. Blue-Sky Thinking

If there were absolutely no limits, no judgments and no consequences, where could your imagination take you? That’s the question behind blue-sky thinking. 

In this type of brainstorming, you’re going wherever your imagination takes you, by creating a space where any and all ideas are welcome, no matter how crazy, silly or unlikely they may initially seem.

Try not to judge yourself while you’re having ideas, and instead ask yourself “what if…?”. This small flight of fantasy will help you bypass the self-consciousness that stifles creative impulses and unlock your creativity. You’ll have plenty of time to evaluate your ideas later, but for now imagine anything is possible, and work from there.

PRO TIP: Learn more about blue-sky thinking technique in this blog post

5. Yes, and…

Borrowed from improvised comedy, this little phrase is a powerful tool in your ideation arsenal. While you’re brainstorming, instead of jumping to your own idea, or shooting someone else down, you try to always build on what came before by using the phrase “yes, and…”.

It might take you to some crazy places at first, but stick with it, and you’ll soon see what a group of minds trying to build something together can achieve if they take one affirmative, logical step at a time.

6. The 5W’s and the H

Whowhatwhere, whywhen and how: the five questions that any good journalist needs to answer in their opening paragraph. 

It might sound simple, but answering these five questions when faced with any challenge can be one of the easiest ways to define your parameters, in order to generate a solution that actually deals with the practical realities of the situation.

7. Social Listening

Your team is your greatest untapped resource, and their ideas – as people who are closest to your product or service every day –  are usually the most valuable. Part of this is because they are in constant communication with your customers, so are able to “listen in” to their reactions in the moment.

With this in mind, it’s always worth seeking out wider set of opinions: both from the people who use your products and services, and also those who don’t. Beyond standing on the shop floor, there are plenty of ways you can access the discussion around your field.

Think about sending out an opinion poll to your customers or clients, or even searching for keywords relating to your topic on opinion-heavy social media sites (including Twitter or Reddit).

8. Idea Capture

Sometimes, finding inspiration is like catching fish; all you can do is sit quietly and wait. 

However, you still need to be ready when inspiration finally strikes. That’s why it’s important to have a means of recording ideas with you at all times. 

Get in touch today to discover how we can help you make sure you never miss a great idea again.

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By Michael Watkins

Michael is Wazoku's Product and Brand Marketing lead. Away from the office, he's our resident film buff, so if you want some recommendations for a night in front of Netflix or a trip to your local cinema, get in touch with him!