To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
–Thomas A. Edison
Does your ideation session with your teammates turn into just another meeting with a few people squabbling and the rest keeping quiet? How do you enhance the likelihood of having successful ideation sessions? While producing new ideas might not be difficult considering how frequently ideas come and go, producing great ideas often requires some inspiration and implementing some scientifically proven techniques of ideation.
It’s time to let go of conventional, boring idea generation tactics. How about trying some innovative and fun ideation techniques to generate better solutions and ideas?
Techniques That Encourage Ideation
They can be structured and organized or be plain silly!
Brainstorming is the most common and the most popular ideation technique in almost every industry. It’s also one of the best ways to generate many ideas as a team than what you can achieve sitting and thinking alone. Brainstorming is all about the quantity of ideas and not the quality. The intention of a brainstorming session is to think collectively. Each individual in the group should tune up the generative part of their brain and tone down the evaluative part. They should engage with each other, listen, and build on ideas.
However, freestyle brainstorming might not lead to substantial ideas. The linear brainstorming process at Google includes the following steps:
- Know the user
- Think 10x
To ensure that your brainstorming sessions are effective, follow these best practices:
- Set a time limit to the brainstorm mode. During this time, the only goal should be to come up with as many ideas as possible. Judging the ideas generated during this period is strictly prohibited.
- Start the session with a problem statement, a plan, a goal, a point of view, or “how can we” questions. Whatever the topic is, stay focused on it. The father of brainstorming, Alex F. Osborn, emphasized the inefficiency of brainstorming sessions that address multiple questions.
- Don’t judge, evaluate, or criticize any idea even in the form of non-verbal actions. As the facilitator of the brainstorming session, you should set a positive tone that allows the participants to feel confident.
- Encourage crazy, wacky, and even weird ideas. The more creative the thinking process, the better the idea might be.
Having a playful way to brainstorm often leads to a surge in creativity. Gamestorming is the combination of brainstorming and gamification. It involves a set of problem-solving and ideation methods that are gamified in just to increase the level of energy, engagement, and collaboration during brainstorming sessions.
Some examples of gamestorming sessions include:
1. Cover story: This gamestorming involves the use of a template that makes the participants generate a cover story, including the main image, a headline, sidebars with relevant facts, quotes, etc. This is a great technique for vision generation sessions as it uses the primary characteristics of a broad subject to create a cohesive picture.
2. Fishbowl: In this ideation session, participants are required to sit in two circles, where the larger one surrounds the smaller circle. Participants in one of the circles brainstorm while those in the other observe, listen, and take notes without saying anything. This gives everyone a chance to engage in the brainstorming session.
This ideation technique is an acronym with each letter representing an action verb that prompts creative ideas. The letters stand for:
S – Substitute
C – Combine
A – Adapt
M – Modify
P – Put to another use
E – Eliminate
R – Reverse
Developed by Bob Eberle, SCAMPER is a checklist that uses action verbs as stimuli to come up with new ideas for making a new product or modifying an existing product.
4. Questioning assumptions
Conventional thoughts and assumptions often take up a lot of thought space in our head. Freeing yourself from these makes it easier to generate great ideas. Almost every industry has certain deep-rooted orthodox beliefs they follow. These unspoken principles act as blinders (like the ones horses wear) that don’t allow one to see new possibilities and ideas. Bryan W. Mattimore, author of “Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs,” outlines in his book the impact questioning assumptions has on ideation.
In his book, Mattimore tells the story of Gary Fraser, his colleague, who had to face larger and established competitors (Crest and Colgate) in the toothpaste industry after taking over the oral care business unit at Unilever. From a product standpoint, he couldn’t compete with them. He also couldn’t spend more than them in marketing. The solution was to question every aspect of the toothpaste business. And the result was Mentadent, the first and a very successful baking soda and peroxide toothpaste in the world.
To question assumptions in your industry, first generate a set of, say, 20 to 30, assumptions, They can be true or false. Pick some of these and use them as the trigger for new ideas. Do consider every aspect of your business while generating the assumptions, including consumer beliefs, product positioning, materials, manufacturing, distribution, and pricing.
5. Mind mapping
This is a graphical technique that makes participants imagine connections between different sets of ideas or information. Mind mapping involves writing down each idea and then connecting each of them by lines or curves to facts or ideas related to them, thus creating a web of relationships. It was a UK researcher, Tony Buzan, who developed “mind mapping” and discussed it in his book “Use your Head,” published in 1972. This technique enables sharing of ideas and concepts by capturing attention and framing information.
To apply mind mapping to your brainstorming session, ask the participants to write a word or a key phrase in the center of the board/page. Then, ask them to write anything and everything that comes to their mind on the same page. Finally, ask them to make connections as explained earlier.
Although daydreaming doesn’t earn any approval from most thought leaders, it is one of the most important ways to generate new ideas. Take the airplane for example. If the Wright brothers hadn’t had a wild imagination triggered by daydreaming about flying, transportation wouldn’t have been as seamless as it is today. Daydreaming, most often, is a playful thought process that dwells on a person’s creativity and ingenuity to work on a problem. It allows the person to develop an emotional connection with that problem, which triggers new ideas.
7. Redefining opportunities
Although deceptively simple, this technique is highly effective. And it sure removes the blinders you might not have realized you had on. In this technique, you have to first create a statement that defines your creative objective. This is your opportunity statement. In the next step, pick any three, preferably the most interesting, words in your opportunity statement and create creative alternatives for all of them using the 5Ws and H of your problem—who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Place your three lists in a table format, arranged in columns under the original words (placed at the top of each column). Finally, select one word randomly from each column and plug it into your original opportunity statement and create new variations of the statement to redefine your opportunity. These are crazy combinations, no doubt. And they’re not necessarily the last stage of this idea generation technique. However, they are great triggers for new ideas as they allow you to see more possibilities than what you might have considered before.
8. Wishful thinking
Another ideation technique outlined by Mattimore, this technique seeks you to wish for the impossible and then find ways to make it possible with the help of brainstorming. Let your imagination go wild, but also ensure that your wishes are tangible. These wishes can be your creative stimuli to generate more realistic ideas.
9. Brainwalking / Brainwriting
Source: Research Gate
This is a flexible technique that can also be applied to the other techniques. It gives everyone in your group an opportunity to contribute their thoughts and ideas. Brainwalking or brainwriting involves participants writing their ideas on one piece of paper among the several pieces that the facilitator places on a wall/whiteboard. They keep rotating, adding to their own thoughts or building upon their colleagues’ ideas. The group can also do this by sitting in a circle and passing the papers from one person to the other after brainstorming for a few minutes. The diversity of ideas this technique creates is phenomenal.
10. Worst possible idea
A fun technique that gets the creative juices flowing, the worst possible idea was also introduced by Mattimore in his book. He exemplifies the technique with the help of a scenario where he was helping a group of bankers to generate innovative ideas. Even after hours of ideating, they couldn’t come up with anything noteworthy. So as a last resort, Mattimore introduced asked them to list the worst possible ideas. This activity not only allowed the banker to have some fun but also led to positive ideation sessions in the future. Sometimes, it is better to go for the bad ideas than the good ones. This takes some pressure off the participants and allows them to be more adventurous and creative with their thoughts.
11. Six thinking hats
Developed by Edward de Bono, a psychologist, consultant, and author, this technique was pioneered by him in his book “Six Thinking Hats,” published in 1985. This technique allows participants in a group to put themselves in each other’s shoes. Six Thinking Hats involves dividing ideas into six directions of thought:
- White hat: Data, facts, and information
- Red hat: Emotions
- Green hat: Ideas
- Yellow hat: Positives
- Black hat: Negatives or critical judgment
- Blue hat: Control and overview
Each hat in this technique signifies a distinct set of perspectives and priorities that will allow you to consider your project from a variety of angles. When you have a new problem, let each member in your group put on one of the hats. Companies that use the Six Thinking Hats technique for ideation in their day-to-day operations include Prudential Insurance, Siemens, Boeing, Honeywell, Motorola, Fidelity Investments, Eli Lilly, National Semiconductor, and many more.
12. Creative pause
Just as important as the other techniques of ideation is the creative pause, which de Bono spoke of in his book “Serious Creativity.” A creative pause gives you the time to pause, take a step back, and reflect and re-approach a problem with a fresh mind. It encourages proactive thinking rather than reactive thinking.
If you’re finding ideation a challenge, brainstorming individually or in a group can get you out of the rut. Try any of these techniques to come up with great ideas and cultivate a creative approach to ideation.