What Is Ideation?

Ideation refers to the process of developing and conveying prescriptive ideas to others, typically in a business setting. It describes the sequence of thoughts, from the original concept to implementation. Ideations can spring forth from past or present knowledge, external influences, opinions, convictions, or principles. Ideation can be expressed in graphical, written, or verbal terms.

Key Takeaways

  • Ideation is the process of forming ideas from conception to implementation, most often in a business setting.
  • Ideation is expressed via graphical, written, or verbal methods, and arises from past or present knowledge, influences, opinions, experiences, and personal convictions.
  • Ideation is usually derived from brainstorming sessions, online forums, seminars, surveys, social media platforms, and team-building exercises.
  • Anyone from an organization, from the CEO to an intern, can partake in the ideation process and contribute innovatively to a company.
  • Most of the ideation process originates from trying to fix a problem; ideation is commonly reverse engineered.
  • Styles of ideation include problem solutions, derivative ideas, and symbiotic ideas.

How Ideation Works

Simply put, ideation is the literal action of forming ideas, from their conception to real-world application and implementation. Ideas and the act of ideating can come from anyone tangentially or directly associated with a business or organization, including low-level employees, managers, customers, partners, and stakeholders. Actual ideations can be the result of brainstorming sessions, online forums, seminars, team-building exercises, surveys, and social media platforms.

Ideation is a key component of any successful business. For example, in its early days, Google encouraged employees to spend as much as 20% of their work hours meditating on new ideas that personally intrigue them and potentially solve real problems. As the company has grown, this is apparently not utilized as much as before. This focus on ideation allows companies to become innovative or remain competitive by increasing the likelihood of new product rollouts, increased customer acquisition, and superior financial performance.

The point is that if employees are spending 100% of their time focused on the requirements of their job, then there is no time to think about new strategies or products in which to grow or improve.

The Ideation Process

Although the ideation process does not necessarily have to conform to any one universal model, there are general guidelines that people can follow to help them maximize the effectiveness of ideation and the solutions it generates.

First and foremost, ideation does not necessarily start with a randomly generated thought. Instead, ideas are reverse engineered to fit emergent problems. It is thus critically important to first clearly define the problem and understand its key underlying factors, such as industry trends, business environments, customer needs, budget constraints, and any other causes behind the vexing issue at hand.

Once key pain points are identified, as well as their root causes, brainstorming sessions and other collaborative pow-wows can be initiated in an effort to crowdsource potential ideas and generate possible solutions to the problems being posed. Ideally, these collaborations should blend the right brain and left brain thought processes, because many problems require both creative and pragmatic approaches to cultivating viable solutions.

Barriers to ideation can include a hostile environment, vague goals, closed-minded individuals, groupthink, people-pleasers, ego, inexperienced teams, inability to think out of the box, and pessimism.

These forums should invite open, unrestricted, and unencumbered dialogue, where participants feel safe to float ideas without fear of ridicule. All ideas, from the deeply academic to the wildly fanciful, should be enthusiastically embraced and should be treated with equal fairness and open-mindedness.

The plethora of ideas generated during collaboration stages is then pared down to one prevailing idea that can best drive the future actions of the group. This marquis idea is tested against the problem and adjusted as needed. It is then tirelessly reworked, retested, and finessed until a potential solution is perfected. The idea is then implemented in the real world, and if it’s deemed successful, the ideation process concludes.

Styles of ideation include the following:

  • Problem solutions: This straightforward method is where an individual identifies a problem that they subsequently solve.
  • Derivative ideas: This involves making improvements to an existing idea.
  • Symbiotic ideas: This is a collision of several incomplete ideas that combine to create a fully-baked, holistic idea.