Creating ideas means that you are open to the spontaneous thoughts and interconnections that emerge and see them as opportunities for solutions. This is a skill that can be practiced and there are methods to support, stimulate, inspire, and structure this process. The methods favor the process and drive up the level of creative thinking.
The methodology within idea development is primarily about cross-fertilizing thoughts and associating them with other’s ideas. Therefore, it is important to let this happen! Here are some important aspects to consider:
Distinguish between lateral and structured thinking
Lateral thinking is a term coined by Edward de Bono and means thinking across or sideways, instead of just straight forward, eg. combining different thoughts, doing the opposite or putting in new contexts.
When getting ideas, individually or in groups, it is important not to value them directly. Seemingly strange ideas are often the starting point for solving a problem in a truly innovative way. Practicalities can always be resolved at a later stage. So, separate the time when you get ideas and when you evaluate the ideas. This is one of the most difficult tasks and therefore it is important to point it out to all participants – or yourself if you work individually. It takes courage to uphold radical solutions and to be open to new ideas!
Clarifying structures and frameworks, to call on everyone to be yes-sayers, making sure everyone can see and can associate around all ideas and avoiding valuing ideas before it is time, are some ways to create an open a permissive mood.
Quantity = Quality
Share all ideas – the more the better! All ideas are valuable and can be the seed that leads you to the best solution. Therefore, all ideas should be written down, shared and saved! Make sure everyone can see everyone’s ideas! Often, you might need to go back later in the development phase – then it is important that you have your old ideas to draw inspiration from. Therefore, do not throw away any ideas.
Everyone works towards the same goal. Avoid to promptly protect your ideas, or to focus too much on one idea. Instead, work on other people’s ideas and encourage others to do the same.
Make sure you push so that you get a great variety of ideas. A large amount means that there are more ideas to work on, but also gives you the confidence that you have tried to solve the problem in different ways. There is rarely just ONE good solution to a problem.
Be a yes-sayer. It is of the utmost importance that everyone is positively attuned and endorses all ideas. Seemingly crazy ideas can be the seed of the idea that has the greatest solution potential and there is time to evaluate the ideas at a later stage. Criticizing and saying no is prohibited as this hinders participants. Feel free to ask if it is something you do not understand but be careful with how you phrase it so that participants don’t become uncertain.
Active participants. Everyone must be involved in the session. A silent participant can create uncertainty, as well as an overly dominant participant can inhibit others. Various methods allow everyone to be involved, for example, by sending ideas around like a baton. Remember to radiate participation with your body language.
An open atmosphere. Create a mood of openness, security and, focus. Humor and play are recognized methods for this. The laughter and the humor are linked to the absurd and open up the mind. The game is “free” in thought but has frameworks and rules which create security and focus. As a suggestion you play something, or do something physically that is not too challenging but still creates focus. You can find some inspiration here and here.
A consensus around the problem
Make an inventory of what has already been done, this is a great way to get started. By making an inventory you also get a clearer vision of what can be defined as a new solution.
Defining the question: always start by defining a starting question – it can be a big question, several smaller questions, or both. Write the question down so that everyone can see it and make sure that everyone agrees on the meaning of the question. Then hide the question – this makes it easier for you to let it go while generating ideas. Come back to the question from time to time during the process.
Tips on creative methods for idea generation
Here are some suggestions that are good to start with:
Random words or words related to the project are randomly paired and works as an inspiration for your idea generation.
Option 1: Write down two keywords from the question and the freely associate and come up with some new concepts. If the question is “How can you get people to park their bicycles in the bicycle racks instead of on the sidewalk?” the keywords could be bicycle + park. When you’ve come up with two words you continue by coming up with 5 new words, based on each word – e.g. bicycle = two-wheeler, support, handlebar, saddle, package holder and park = car, box, guard, payment, steering wheel.
These words are then randomly paired – e.g. two-wheeler + steering wheel, support + guard, saddle + box, etc. and then freely associated upon.
Option 2: Randomize words from a dictionary. The words can then be paired together two and two and then associated upon.
pass it forward
Here are two suggestions for a quieter idea generation session – methods where participants do not share the ideas directly with the group, but by writing them down. These exercises are well suited if you need the more quiet participants to take up some more space.
6-3-5: (6 participants, 3 minutes, 5 ideas – which are passed on and further developed or associated on). Start with a common question. If you decide to further develop on each other’s ideas – make sure there is plenty of room for this on the paper. Use an A4 sheet, rather than a post-it note. If you choose to associate and come up with new ideas, you can use separate papers for each idea.
The baton: similar to 6-3-5, but with the difference that only one idea is passed on from each participant.
different starting points
The Stimuli method: find nearby places or contexts and use these to come up with different solutions. If the question is “How can you get people to park their bicycles in the bicycle racks instead of on the sidewalk?”, then, based on other nearby or far away contexts you ask yourself questions like, how does it work when it comes to parking cars? How does it work in the grocery industry or at preschools, stores or parks?
Shape association: Use random images to associate new ideas. The images can be figurative or abstract. It is important that no thought activity I needed in the selection of an image – we recommend that you have the images available in physical form. At Storm, we have a kit with “Visual confetti” that can be borrowed. Another suggestion is to draw the silhouette of an object and the let it become an abstract shape to further associate from.
The Helicopter method: look at the problem – both from afar and from a close-up perspective. If the question is “How can you get people to park their bicycles in the bicycle racks instead of on the sidewalk?”, start with looking at it from a macro perspective – e.g. how do organizations, nations, or migratory birds, solve similar problems? Then think about it from a micro perspective – e.g. How do families, animals, organisms, etc, solve the problem?