What is idea generation?
Idea generation means to create, develop and communicate ideas which are concrete, abstract, or visual. A company makes use of this process to come up with solutions to problems.
After the generation of ideas, the team works on validating the ideas, choosing the best one and then coming up with a plan to implement it. Only after this does the team move on to the further steps of building upon it. Idea generation is the first step of the complete innovation management funnel. The idea may be something you can touch and see (tangible) or one which is symbolic in nature.
Ideas are the starting point towards making changes. Ideally, ideas are meant to bring about positive improvement. This could be anywhere, in a region, a company, or the world at large. For the sake of this blog, we will be limited to understanding idea generation in businesses. So, we'll see how businesses come up with ideas. This would be through the help of a number of techniques which we see below. Of course, the process of idea generation is not limited to these techniques but can be done in any way you wish to.
"The most common question prospective startup founders ask is how to get ideas for startups. The second most common question is if you have any ideas for their startup."
- Sam Altman (CEO of OpenAI)
Want to learn about the origin stories of founders like Sam Altman? Check all our founder stories here.
Stages of Successful Ideation
The following is a brief summary of what happens from the generation to the implementation stage.
The first stage is the generation of ideas, and we will be elaborating more on this in the further sections. For this, the company would need to identify the needs. After this, they'd still have to see to the core competencies and consumer insights before going ahead.
Core competencies in this context means making use of the company's strengths to work on an idea. Consumer insights means checking if the consumers would be open to it. Existing surveys and other such data can help with understanding the consumer mindset. Competitor performance would also have to be checked.
This is where ideas are evaluated by the team or the important stakeholders. You'd first have to decide a proper evaluation criteria and then check how your idea fits into it. They figure out a way to prioritize ideas. After this, the team selects the best ideas from the set and moves them to the implementation stage.
To successfully implement ideas, your organization would need to have proper workflows. A great team in which people take responsibility for the project is also needed. Also, to guarantee the success of the implementation, the idea would have to be good. You can say that the success of the implementation depends on the ability to choose the top ideas and take action as needed. Of course, after implementation, there would also be distribution, sales, etc.. based on what the idea is.
Also note that this is not necessarily followed in every company. Each may have its own way of going about and there'd be variations. For example, companies could ask for feedback from customers after releasing an MVP. Only after validation of the MVP would they go for the next stage, finalizing the idea to implement.
Steps involved in Idea generation
As already mentioned, the ways companies find ideas are different and need not be uniform. But, we will see what are the overall steps the company takes to come up with a new idea.
Thomas Edison proposed a streamlined set of steps for the idea generation process. This is often used by product building and marketing teams. Here is a summary of the steps he proposed.
Enable - This means searching for the field you want to develop an innovation in.
Define - In this stage, you'd be defining search queries and paths.
Inspire - Here, you'd be looking at other areas and try finding inspiration on how to go about with things.
Select - This is where you'd be picking one idea from the various ones in mind.
Optimize - Take the initial idea and make it better by working on it and finalizing the concept.
Nurture - This is when you implement the idea in various ways to eventually sell it.
Techniques used for idea generation
The following are some tried and tested methods you could use for the generation of ideas. Firms make use of one or more of these to come up with ideas for innovation. You can experiment with these various ways and decide which one works best for your needs.
Brainstorming means coming up with a number of ideas to solve one issue. You can either do it alone or in groups. Allow yourself or the team some time and keep noting down whatever solutions you can think of for solving the issue at hand.
This technique is a quantitative one. It means that you'll come up with a large number of solutions to the problem. However, you'd still have to select the best one from the initial set. You can try having each person brainstorm and then review in a group.
Mind mapping is a visual/ graphical way of going about with the idea generation process. In this, all the ideas are noted down on a board and the users then draw a connection between these points. Basically, they draw lines from one idea to another to show relations between them.
So, the team/individual builds a web of relationships between various ideas. Arrows or pointers mark these connections from one idea to the other. Generally, the preceding idea is known as the major and the one following it, the minor.
The team usually starts with writing one broad idea in the centre of the board. All the points which come to mind around this idea then go all around it. After this, they draw the connecting arrows.
Opposite or reverse thinking is to look at a problem to see how it comes about.
Take if you want to increase the number of visitors to your website. Here, you'd try to understand what are the things that are keeping visitors from coming to your website. This could be a poor landing page, bad SEO, lack of content, and other such factors.
So, instead, you have to then work on only those things which will be conducive to increasing users to your site.
When using reverse thinking, you can come up with various solutions to solve problems the same way - determining what makes it worse and then avoiding it.
Working on your idea on the side while you do your full-time job is a risk-free way to work on your startup. One of my friends is doing the same with her startup, Writer Alpha.