Generating Ideas

By Martin Gilliard

Generating ideas is the input to innovation. Without an idea you can't have an innovation. There are many methods and processes out there to assist with the generation of ideas. For starters you might want to check out the creativity techniques section of this web site. 

Often though, to generate ideas it’s good to simply sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and start writing. As soon as you have something down on paper you will no doubt find that it helps drive you towards the next item that you write down.

light bulb made out of letters

(Photo Credit Adih Respati)


To help the process of generating ideas think about the job that an existing product or service does.

That is you should try and think of existing users of the product or service that you are trying to improve and in particular the reason why they would purchase that product or service.

People often purchase a product or service to perform some form of job for them. This is an idea put forward by Clayton M. Christensen and you can understand more about it if you watch some of the videos that are presented in the disruptive innovation section of the web site where he puts forward a great example in terms of what job a milkshake performs for the people who purchase one.

When generating ideas also try to think of needs.

For example you have an afternoon dentist appointment today and you’ve been drinking coffee all day and therefore you have coffee breath. You have no minty gum and you forgot to bring your toothbrush into work. Your dentist isn't probably overly bothered, no doubt they experience it all the time or simply can't smell your breath anyway given the mask that they wear. However you yourself would feel much better if you had fresh minty breath. Could this need result in an opportunity to sell chewing gum or breath freshening products either in work or at the reception of the dentist’s office that you could purchase and use while waiting for your appointment. Possibly not the greatest of ideas but hopefully enough for you to get my point!

Other great ideas can just come about by taking a deep interest in the external environment in which you operate. 

In whichever field or industry in which you operate there will no doubt be many new and innovative ideas, products and solutions being brought to the table week by week. Keep up-to-date on these ideas and take notes.

Subscribe to trade magazines or set up Internet alerts such as Google alerts on a particular subject or topic that you find interesting. Knowing what is happening / trending in the local environment for the subject or field that you are focused on can be a big driver towards generating new ideas. Perhaps you can expand on someone else’s idea. Or perhaps you don’t think the latest solution put forward is the best.

Many new ideas come about as a result of combining or changing already existing items or ideas.

Simply brainstorming ideas with yourself is often a great way to come up with new ideas. Challenge yourself by setting targets. For example challenge yourself to come up with thirty new ideas for your problem area in the next hour.

Also try to dismiss the obvious at least at first – for example rather than firing an employee to meet the latest budget cuts consider reducing his or her working week or finding a new value driving project for them to work on that will add to the bottom line.

Consider the notion of thinking outside of the box or the lateral thinking technique put forward by Edward De Bono.



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