Methods > Ideate > Idea Generation

Idea Generation

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  • To facilitate brainstorm style thinking around a particular topic, industry, or problem area


  • Generate new ideas together with your team


2 hours


3 - 16 people


You got this.


Design materials (e.g, large paper, Sharpies, note cards, post its) Smallest space where the participants can cluster around a wall or board where post it notes can be placed and rearranged

Detailed steps

Prep time is around 15-20 minutes (to create a strong innovation question) for a 30-60 minute session. Participate in a few good brainstorms first if you can. Invest in creating a strong innovation question: a successful brainstorm is heavily dependent on the stimuli that is brought into the room and the framing of the question. Invite a diverse audience. Select a facilitator who can kick off the brainstorm, participate, and manage the conversation.

2. ASK
Introduce a strong innovation question to guide ideation. A good question will be simple, challenge the status quo, and be slightly counter-intuitive. Some categories and examples of innovation questions:

  • Suggestive – “How might we…?” (ie open ended question: “How might we move bricks from one location to another?” Not focused “how can we build a better wheelbarrow?”
  • Devil’s Advocate – “What if money were no option?”
  • Contrary – “What if it wasn’t open source?”
  • Reversal – “What if the passengers served the air attendants?
  • Time – “Imagine 20 years in the future/past…”
  • Provocation – Photo/artifact/quote

Start by reviewing ground rules for the brainstorm. In general, these are some good guidelines for an effective brainstorm:

  • Defer judgement
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Build on the ideas of others
  • One conversation at a time
  • Be visual
  • Stay focused on the topic
  • Go for quantity
  • If you’re using post its, one per idea

Part 1: Aim to spend about ⅓ of the allotted time on divergent thinking. This is the rapid creation of random, unorganized, wild, free-flowing, novel ideas in a short period of time. This method helps people to think outside the usual constraints. This type of thinking encourages people to get comfortable with ideas that may not be immediately valuable, but could provide the key ingredient for driving innovation.

Part 2: Aim to spend about ⅙ of the allotted time on convergent thinking. This is a selective critique and combination of ideas in order to develop strong concepts. The

convergent thinking method helps intelligently refine ideas by strengthening them and/or putting them together. The combination forces new thinking and creativity around how new solutions can be made and differentiated. Create clusters of complementary ideas and add more texture and detail by using affinity clustering.

Allow about ⅓ of the allotted time for synthesis.

  • Pick 3 of the strongest clusters and refine by imagining the scenario of usage and the social, emotional attributes your target user would experience or need to accomplish
  • Draw a 3-6 storyboards for each solution and annotate with user detail