at IHM Hajipur, Bihar, India
Trainer & Head of Operations, Otermans Institute
Chief Product Officer, Solar Botanic
Researcher, Brunel University London
Ideation is the process of generating new ideas and is the starting point of all things great. It is somewhat similar to creativity, but is essentially a very different topic. Ideation comprises of its own stream of principles and also incorporates points from other Otermans Institute lessons like creativity, finding your purpose and goal setting.
The best thing about ideation, and where it is different from more structural processes like creativity, is it gives time of unbounded freedom. In the ideation process you have the ability to come up with new ideas without any restrictions. Nothing is too crazy, and no idea is bad. It sounds simple, but how do you actually do this?
Since ideating is such an exciting thing to do, it is tempting to start its process before fully understanding the problem at hand. This means that not knowing what your idea is meant to solve can result in futile ideation that either generates concepts that already exist or fails to solve the actually intended purpose. More importantly, the advantage of having extremely low bindings can also prove to become a challenge. So the most important factor is to determine what problem or issue you are trying to solve and build your idea from there.
We may think that we fully understand this, but don’t make the mistake that many have made before you and spend your time ideating solutions to a problem that only exists for you. Another usual mistake is going straight into your creativity side to build an idea without doing any research on the problem you are trying to solve. This may lead to you working on an idea to solve a problem where plenty of solutions already exist and are very similar to yours.
Although some projects start from a disruptive idea that struck someone’s mind during a shower; don’t ask us why, but the shower has historically been a place where clever ideas are born, we need to understand that most projects are started because a problem is identified, and ideation should be in line with that problem and with the industry end-user expectations and requirements. Depending on the problem you are looking at, it might be necessary to do some market or industry research first. This reduces chances of you coming up with ideas or solutions that already exist or are too new for the target market.
When you are ready to start the ideation process, after your essential research and reasoning, make sure you are in a relaxed environment without external disturbance. This is essential to get into the creative flow required to connect the dots, adapt to new inputs and recognise patterns. This way, your chances of developing an idea that can disrupt commonly held beliefs or concepts are massively increased.
Note: Disruption does not only mean a completely new creation. In fact, most disruptive ideas are existing solutions done differently and significantly more efficiently. Harvard Business Review also adds that disruption is a “process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses.’’
When it comes to ideating, there are many ways to do this. Each person is different in what works for them, but this lesson will introduce some of the most popular techniques taught by Otermans Institute. These techniques are also often used in industry because of their productive and also fun nature.
When you are in a creative state, you’ll find that your mind will be full of ideas. Take them out of your head and put them on to a paper. Basically, that’s all there is to do with brainstorming. Brainstorming is one of the oldest tricks when it comes to ideation. A brainstorming session collects all ideas, however farfetched they might seem, and gives the opportunity to find connections or patterns in them. When brainstorming in a group, you can verbally bounce ideas off of each other with the potential to find even better ideas by combining each other’s creative minds; the magic formula of 1+1=3.
There are many ideation techniques that are born out of brainstorming. For example, brain-writing is the silent version of brainstorming, where each participant writes their ideas down and passes them to the next participant who add their ideas to the list. This way you can still feed on each other’s ideas while avoiding the loudest shouter becoming dominant and the silent creative mind’s ideas falling behind. In a time where we may lack enough body movement, this can also be transformed to brain-walking. In stead of passing your paper to the next person, you leave your paper at your place and move around to the next person’s paper yourself.
This is one of the simplest ways of building concrete ideas from other people’s ideas and opinions. People are naturally opinionated and generate ideas through their opinions. You should welcome other people’s opinions on your ideas and ask people about their thoughts on your ideas. You will be shocked to find the amount of innovative feedback and different versions of the ideas you can get. This also provides a data set of potential shortcomings and different uses of your idea from people who are not inclined to favour your idea. This is just like brainstorming but without a formal structure. Here you are simply gathering ideas and thoughts without putting people in a formal exercise. Finally, remember these words from Richard Branson, “I always keep a note book with me in parties, you never know which million dollar ideas people will give away for free in these things”.
Mind-mapping is a very effective technique to draw connections between different sets of ideas, information and topics. In this technique, you start by writing a keyword in the middle of the page, usually related to the problem you are solving. From here, you can write all your ideas around the key word. When you are happy with your ideas, take a step back and think about how these ideas are connected to each other. Add an ounce of extra creativity and you’ll end up with a mind-map full of great ideas that can steal the show in a museum.
This can be especially handy when facing a creative block. As the name suggests, you think of the opposite of what you want to achieve. For example, you are looking for an answer to the question ‘How can I make sure that people stay longer in my shop, so they check and buy more clothes?’ and can’t find any solutions. Try turning the question around: ‘How can I make sure that people leave my shop as quickly as possible?’ You will be surprised with the insights you gain from opposite thinking and how you can reverse engineer these to answer your original question and solve your original issue.
Finding a creative solution to a new problem can be extremely difficult. However, if you think about it, you likely have experienced a similar problem or situation before in another setting. Using an analogy, or metaphor, of the problem you are facing can help you transfer the solution you used before to support your current idea. In analogy thinking, the problem and past experience are put in one sentence, often converged by the words ‘is like’. For example, you are still struggling to have people stay in your shop long enough to make a purchase. You can make the following analogy: ‘Making people stay longer in my shop is like entertaining guests at a dinner party’. Now you know that you can try to treat your clients as your friends and guests which could make them more likely to stay longer in your shop to check out clothes, buy more and maybe even return with their friends and family to show them the warm service they experienced. A win-win situation arises.
Pro tip: Bad ideas don’t exist. It is all about quantity during ideation, don’t dismiss any ideas as they might be the key to unlocking the true potential of another idea. Also, seek the view points of other people who may actually develop a use or solution for your idea that makes it truly disruptive, but you did not think about earlier. Therefore, capture each and every idea that you or your team members bring up during the ideation stage and encourage everybody present to share their most farfetched ideas. Then analyse it in line with the issue you want to solve.
Finally, remember generating ideas is like dreaming if not thought in line with the solution it intends to bring. Always start with the problem or issue you are trying to solve first to generate the most effective ideas that can truly be meaningful.
Self: Using the mind-map diagram above, create one new mind-map every day for 5 days on different ideas you want to build on. Before making the map, ensure you have defined the exact problem or issue you are aiming to solve and at least spend 30-minutes on Google looking for existing solutions that already exist and are similar to your idea.
Family: Try a X-3-5 brain-writing session with your family. Identify a problem in the house. Maybe you spend too much time when you are doing the dishes, wouldn’t there be a better way to do it? In the X-3-5 method, the X stands for the number of people in your family. Each person writes down 3 ideas in 5 mintutes. When the 5 minutes are over, each passes on their sheet to the right so that the next family member has another 5 minutes to build on the ideas. This activity is done in complete silence to avoid one family member dominating the discussion. Remember, you are all solving the same problem so don’t neglect or devalue each other’s idea.
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