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.

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, Google encourages employees to spend as much as 20% of their work hours meditating on new ideas that personally intrigue them and potentially solve real problems. 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 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 initially 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 are 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.

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 solution. This straightforward method is where an individual identifies a problem that he or she subsequently solves.
  • Derivative idea. 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.

Some people are dubious about the term "ideation," claiming that it is vague.