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Ideation is a horrible word, but it is a real word.  It is the process of generating and developing new ideas.

This article is about some methods, which you might find useful when trying to come up with a killer product idea that sticks!


How do you get Ideas?

There is a lot of talk about sudden inspiration moments and certainly everyone remembers Newton’s apple and Darwin’s thunderbolt moment on the theory of evolution. As it happens, it now looks like both Newtons' and Darwins' ideas evolved over some considerable time.

This is backed up by discovery of early notes of Darwin himself (he was an avid note taker) on the theory of evolution, before his alleged eureka moment. Also, the fact that Newton’s ideas over gravity started in 1666 but Principia was not published until 1686 and even that was subject to a plagiarism dispute with Robert Hooke.

However, there is no denying that Fleming sparked an idea for Penicillin in 1928, due to a mistake in storing petri dishes. In is also undeniable that the Curies developed the idea of radioactivity based upon the earlier discover (also by mistake) by Becquerel of the properties of Uranium.

The point is that most ideas are probably the progress of a slow hunch, at least in the opinion of Steve Johnson. Steve has a fantastic video on “Ted talks” in which he explores neural networks and coffee shops of all things.  This talk is about the fact that ideas are in fact neural networks that are formed in the brain. That is, before the idea came along these networks did not exist. So the art of thinking can create (or at least) re-arrange matter.  If this happens naturally what are the conditions that will make it happen more often and how do you re-arrange you cells in the right order.

My question is: ‘Is it possible to create an environment that encourages these early innovation sparks and fans the progress of them into ideas with an implementation plan?’ 

I believe this is indeed possible.

What is the best environment for creating Ideas?

It is well documented that both Nietzsche and Einstein both suggested that to solve certain problems it was necessary to think like a child. This has certain resonance with the theory of lateral thinking by Edward De Bono.  Both these suggest that you will have a better chance of having new and better ideas if you can remove the shackles of your own constraints.

The problem with most adults is they already have a way of thinking how things work and what will and wont work. As a result a lot of ideas don’t get off the ground. They know the idea will fail before they even finishing the development of the idea. Children do not think like this and by trying to think like a child, without constraints, you may well come up with many new and exciting ideas.

Research also seems to suggest that most ideas are actually formed in groups where active discussions are going on. Think about the way good brainstorming session’s work. The perspective of many people, can often add value to an original unformed idea. Indeed, it may be postulated that two people might each have half the idea and through discussion can come up with a better fully rounded one. So if group discussion is the good way to create great ideas why do these discussions often fail?

To answer this it is worth re-visiting the transactional analysis theories postulated by Eric Berne in 1964 in his book ‘The games people play’. In summary, he states you can think of human behavior in three distinct ego states: adult, parent and child. It is still a great book, but I’m not going to get into detail about it here. In short, Eric says, that the transactions played out between ego states have a huge impact on the outcome. If we believe the creative parts of people seem to reside more in the child state, then we need to be careful not to stifle those parts. However, unless it is treated properly an adult to child discussion or a parent to child discussion may end up killing the idea dead!

Think about children with cardboard boxes; to the kids they are castles and racecars but to the parent they are a mess. So, the parent reminding the child the racecar is in fact cardboard junk will end the dream and kill the idea. So when group of people get together they need to be careful to protect he child state of the creative discussion.

But, it is often the case that participants of meetings might interject why an idea may fail due to their own experience. This might happen before the idea and its tangents have been fully explored and the avenues of the idea will be closed down at this point. If we can try and direct the conversations away from these roadblocks and diversions we will allow more ideas to flourish.

So, attempting to think like children in an ego managed environment may well prove more fertile in the long run.

Another approach that athletes often take is utilizing positive mental attitudes and in particular creative visualization. This visualization technique sees us imagining what victory would look like, feel like, smell like etc. With that image in mind you then work back to how you got there. This is useful, as by working backwards must have already removed the roadblock to thinking about why it ‘cant’ happens. Instead, your frame of mind is trying to find out what you did to remove the roadblock rather than stopping and staring at it.

Developing the Idea

When you are trying to come up with a new idea it is really important not to try and evaluate them too quickly. Generating the ideas is the important thing. So think of idea generation as a two-phase process:

  1. Create the ideas.
  2. Develop and edit the ideas.

The objective of the creative session is to create as many ideas as possible. These will be written down and analyzed at a later date. To create the most conducive environment for idea creation you want to tap into your child state.  So, here are a few things you can do:

  1. Set the ground rules. There is no such thing as a bad idea.
  2. Try to set the mental state of the participants. Folks will come to meetings with their own pressures and prejudices and probably a strong feeling for how things should get done. Try to break these down by some lateral thinking exercises and puzzles. (A selection of these are in the downloads area).
  3. Try to get a cheery room with colors. Provide colour notepads, crayons, sponge balls etc. Things that remind us of our child state.
  4. Provide a big jar of sweeties. Can you find old classics that might remind the audience of their childhood, for me it’s cola cubes.  It is also worth noting that according to Professor Robin Kanarek, ‘Glucose is the best fuel for the brain’.
  5. Tease yourself, ask questions like: ‘How would I solve this problem with the technology available in 100 years time ?’
  6. At the end of the session, write all the ideas down. Remember that long hunch.
  7.  Have fun, its what kids do best.

After the fun section you need to re-group and analyses the ideas to see how they can be commercialized.

Develop and edit the Ideas

Make sure this happens in a different session from the creative one. In fact on a different day if possible, ‘do away with childish things’. The adult approach will be needed to calculate if the idea is worth developing.

  1. At this stage I think you should try and become the persona of a customer you are going to target with your idea.  Focus on the benefits to the customer and map out what the likely ROI for the customer might be. A good way to do this is to try and price your product and come up with a customer pain map. (Please see my article on value pricing for more information on this.)
  2. If the idea does not commercially work try some of the others. If none of them work plan another creative session on how you might make one of the ideas work. If you can invite new people to this then that will give some better perspectives.
  3. Once you have an idea that works and a potential ROI paper you should try and get feedback from a potential prospect. Do not try and ‘sell’ them the idea but ask them for their opinion, which you respect. If you have an ROI case you might get better data as they may very well tell you that your numbers are wrong. If they like the idea, then you have a potential prospect for the future.
  4. Build a prototype. Without one you might find that peoples ideas on what they thought the idea was will actually change.
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