When business requirements meet raw creativity, this is when idea generation steps in. These creative and innovative ideas are the backbones of any successful business that fulfills consumer needs and help them build fortunes.
But what exactly is idea generation, and how does one nourish their ability to produce them?
Idea generation is often understood as the very first step of the innovation process. It explicitly targets creating new products, solutions, or business models different from everything else available on the market. There are various idea generating techniques that enable this process and help you look for product ideas that are feasible for execution.
So, if you wish to boost your business and increase your entrepreneurial skills, it is integral to acquaint yourself with these techniques. Continue to read our carefully curated list of 20 idea generation techniques, tools, and mental methods!
20 Idea Generation Techniques, Tools & Mental Models
Several idea generating techniques available on the market will strengthen your problem-solving ability. The best techniques that guarantee success are:
1. The 5W+H method
The 5W+H method is an effective technique used by industry professionals to create creative ideas. While it might look like random words and letters, it translates to Who, what, where, when, why, and how?
Using the method against a specific topic would help you comprehensively understand it in-depth. If you're worried that you're not looking at the topic entirely and missing some aspects, try the 5W+H method!
2. First Principles Mental Model
The first principles mental model challenges the generic approach to thinking and promotes creative thinking. It breaks down complex problems into their smallest possible element or any underlying assumptions and then reassembles them back up more efficiently.
Most famously, Elon Musk adopted this method to send a rocket to Mars. He brought down the astronomical price of a rocket by understanding its fundamentals, bypassing the common practice of simply buying one, and building it himself with cheaper materials.
3. Mind Mapping
By definition, mind mapping is a method that utilizes a diagram with different tasks, words, concepts, or items that are arranged around a subject or concept in a non-linear graphical layout. It is pretty easy to create and will help you create an intuitive and easy-to-understand framework for the problem you're working with. It also lets you view everything you're working with at a glance without ruffling through numerous papers.
For example, if you're designing a play, you'll put your protagonist in the center while the supporting actors, relationships, and other elements will be linked to it on the outside.
4. Blue Sky Thinking / Brainstorming
Brainstorming, or blue-sky thinking is a technique that has been used for decades to come up with creative ideas. While quality is important, this method focuses on quantity as well.
A team sits down together and shoots answers to the potential problem that comes off at the top of their heads. There is no right or wrong and no scope for ridicule. After the session, all the suggestions can be filtered out as plausible or not, and one that has the most potential shall get selected.
5. SCAMPER Technique
SCAMPER is an acronym that stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. Developed by Bob Eberle, this idea generation technique compels you to think, ask questions and create a checklist of your solutions.
Each acronym letter is a verb that forces you to substitute an aspect with another, combine it with something else, modify it, and so on. It will explore each aspect, critically analyze the problem, understand where it might lie, and develop creative and differently-angled solutions. Check out the following video for a deep dive into the SCAMPER Technique:
6. Role Playing
When you're trying to find a solution, there is no better way than to walk in their shoes and understand the problem from their perspective. The role-playing idea generation technique does precisely that!
The method involves the participants taking up the roles of other people involved in the situation. It can be anything from managers assuming the role of employees to workers pretending to be the consumers. Role-playing might not bring immediate results, but it can create exciting scenarios and creative solutions.
7. Social Listening
Idea generation does not necessarily need to be done single-handedly. Instead, the social listening technique can be used to gain insight into what the target audience needs at a particular moment.
You can use social media platforms like Instagram, Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter to be a part of related communities and gain insights from others’ ideas.
Being surrounded by the same people makes it difficult to think of new ideas. Hence, it is integral to go beyond your immediate circle and find creative ideas for your company.
The idea generation process can get monotonous and boring after hours of musing. Using the storyboarding technique, you can bring a splash of color and visual perspective. You can also compile pictures, quotes, and other graphics into a compelling storyboard and explain your narrative better.
With this interactive method, you can take suggestions from your colleague and create a mutual dialogue of idea sharing. As the process progresses, a stream of constructive ideas is generated.
9. Forced Relationship
The forced relationship technique involves finding a fresh connection between two completely unrelated and random ideas or products. The resultant solution might not necessarily be unique, but it'll help create new connections that can prove beneficial. This technique can be conducted by two individuals or a group of people.
Most of the modern products we see today are a product of the forced relationship method. For example, a smartwatch doubles as a calendar, fitness tracker, and calculator. While these ideas might not necessarily be revolutionary, they've helped ease human life and made their lives more convenient.
Synectic is another idea generation technique that promotes thought processes that the subject might have missed or skipped over. Created by William J.J. Gordon and George M. Prince as part of Arthur D. Little Invention Design Unit, it involves approaching the problem rationally and logically.
There are three key assumptions attached to the method: describing and teaching the creative process is possible, similar "psychic" processes initiate the invention processes (in both arts and sciences), and individual and group creativity are analogous.
Brainwriting as an idea generation technique is quite easy. Unlike other methods where the team members are asked to shout out their ideas, this method involves jolting them down on a piece of paper. After writing on it for a few minutes, they must pass their sheet on to the next member.
The process continues for a designated time or until people have got their sheets back. Adding on to each other's ideas instead of merely shouting their own builds up solutions backed by different perspectives.
12. Spotting Product Trends
Client behaviors and market trends are constantly changing, thanks to social media. Spotting product trends is a method that helps the company achieve commercial success by utilizing different approaches to understanding its target audience.
It involves keeping up with the ongoing and upcoming trends and understanding the behavioral changes of the audience. The service managers and researchers are then inspired by it to create products that might likely be the trending point.
Instead of limiting their ideation process to a team, the crowdsourcing method directly involves the target audience and understands their viewpoint. Through this collaborative technique, people can come together on a single platform and give their suggestions regarding it.
It can be carried out in multiple ways, including digital information from platforms like HYVEcrowd or Eyeka, social media, or online forums. Crowdsourcing is quite cost-effective and faster, gives you the perspectives of several individuals, and incorporates diverse ideas and skills.
14. Idea Generation Events, Activities & Workshops
Idea generation events, activities, and workshops are excellent ways to stimulate the brain and generate some extremely creative ideas. These activities are generally categorized into two sects: external and internal. For the latter, the platform can be both online and offline.
These internal or external activities will help broaden your knowledge and force you to think better and faster.
For external activities, offline platforms are better suited to let the imagination flow. Events, courses, and competitions all come under it. They expose you to different people who bring a fresh perspective to the table and help you to develop views of your own.
15. Start With Why
Naturally, any problem-solving process must start with a solid 'why.' Your real or hypothetical situation that needs a solution has to have a reason to demand your attention – why did this situation occur in the first place? According to the diverse set of answers you receive, you can find the root of the problem and, eventually, its answer.
However, don't just stop after asking the question once. Question yourself repeatedly until your query gets a profound and usable answer that solves the problem thoroughly or at least partly. This problem-solving process can be helpful too.
16. Design Thinking Mental Models
Design thinking mental models is a non-linear, iterative idea generation technique used by teams to understand their consumers, challenge pre-existing assumptions and find creative solutions to all their problems. It is a five-stage process that involves Empathizing, Defining, Ideating, Prototype, and Testing.
It is perhaps the most straightforward method that seeks to tackle all consumer issues. The process starts with researching your consumer's needs, stating these needs and problems, challenging the pre-defined assumptions, creating new ideas, building a prototype to tackle them, and finally testing out the effectiveness of these solutions.
17. Opposite Thinking
Opposite thinking is a radical idea generation process that adopts a structured approach to figuring out problems and discovering solutions. It helps go beyond the standard status quo of understanding and helps think outside the box, and ideate non-obvious solutions.
The process usually works in five different. First, the team must create assumptions (preferably two) at the beginning of their (How Might We) statements and then share these assumptions in the left column of the opposite thinking template.
Next, pick one of the assumptions and define how they'll look in the opposite reality. Write them in the second column, consider how these realities affect your problem, and think of their solutions.
Continue until you have completely identified these realities and their solutions.
18. Analogy Thinking
Also known as wishful thinking, analogy thinking is the perfect way to force your brain into finding creative solutions. Under this, you'll have to start by thinking of a random word or action that challenges you to think of the problem from a different perspective. It doesn't have to be related to the problem.
After creating the analogy, find similarities between them – have fun with it! Using these similarities generates some interesting insights and ideas.
19. Reverse Thinking
Reverse thinking is all about turning the situation upside down, i.e., looking for problems instead of solutions. So, think about how you can cause the plan to fail instead of succeeding when brainstorming.
This method works because it's easier to see gaps in the plan instead of planning out outlining its successful execution. Once your group has listed down these problems, come up with ways on how you can counter them.
20. Thinking Hats Technique
The thinking hats technique helps you look at the problem from six different perspectives. After ideating, you can select one that fits your situation perfectly because it won't have the element of a 'snap decision.'
Here's what the six hats represent:
- Blue Hat - Conductor's hat
- Green Hat - Creative hat
- Red Hat - Hat for the heart
- Yellow Hat - Optimist hat
- Black Hat - Judge's hat
- White Hat - Factual hat
Each hat represents a stage your team must go through during the ideation process. Follow them to get a thorough idea of the situation and plan an outline for it.
Closing Note on Generating Ideas
Idea generating is no longer a tedious process requiring a board meeting and throwing random ideas. These idea generating techniques can make the process easier and more fun! So, if you plan to launch a new product or service, use our carefully curated 20 idea generating techniques to find unique solutions!
Tips for Successfully Managing Ideas
The ideation process is not about merely thinking about ideas; instead, it involves successfully managing them. Here's how you can effectively manage them:
- Keep track of the ideas on an Excel sheet.
- Set aside a set amount to brainstorm ideas and jolt them down as soon as they strike you. Remember, there's no right or wrong idea during brainstorming.
- Making mental notes of your conversations with resourceful people goes a long way. Always make sure to highlight the key thoughts and set them aside to look at with a fresh mind.
- Don't forget to go back to your previous ideas and build new perspectives around them.
Written by Aastha Kochar, a freelance writer at Shnoco.