Let's Look at Ideation Techniques!

Let's Look at Ideation Techniques!

Simon Jenner

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Ideation is the process of gaming your brain into thinking up new and innovative ideas. Almost everyone has been involved in an ideation session at some point without knowing it.

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Ok first of all what is Ideation and why might you engage in it? Ideation is the process of gaming your brain into thinking up new and innovative ideas. Almost everyone has been involved in an ideation session at some point without knowing it. 

Ideation allows us to think outside of our normal roles and experience and to try out new ideas without feeling foolish or risking criticism. In a business environment that thrives on intellectual property and innovation Ideation is a powerful tool kit for driving success.

For instance one of the most common methods of Ideation is ‘Brainstorming’ - the process of a group throwing as many solutions as possible, without criticism, up onto a whiteboard to see what sticks. Brainstorming has been around since the 50’s and is an incredibly affective tool for design thinking and is familiar to us all. 

Brainstorming has two close cousins which are also worth mentioning right at the top of this post: 


A BrainDump might sound like a euphemism for a bad idea but it is, in fact, a great solo ideation technique that drives efficiency. 

Before attending a meeting (where ideas are required) all of the invitees write every thought they have down and submit them to the facilitator. The Facilitator then collates and presents ideas back to the attendees. This is a great way to save time and allows a group to focus an entire meeting on building out the ideas that excite them most. 

BrainWriting and BrainWalking

BrainWriting is a little like a children’s parlour game that delivers great results for your business! It works like this. 

I write down or draw an idea on a piece of paper. After five minutes I pass that paper to a friend who builds on what I created. After another five minutes the paper passes on. In a group there can be lots of ideas being passed around. When everyone has added to the idea it is presented back to the group for discussion. 

BrainWalking is a similar exercise, but instead of passing paper participants get on their feet and walk between desks and white boards that have ideas in development on them.

What if? 

Start a business from a blank piece of paper and you will immediately start to make assumptions. Those assumptions will almost always be commonsensical and based on relevant experience. 

For instance you might be starting a coffee shop. You’re likely to immediately assume that you need premises, a coffee machine, cups, tables, baristas… all of these are perfectly sensible assumptions. But what if you did things differently? What if you didn’t have premises? What would your coffee business look like then?

This technique asks you to list all of the assumptions that underpin the business or proposition that you are examining, no matter how general or set in stone you might think they are, and then question them. 

Sometime this might seem ludicrous but it forces you to think differently. For instance what if our coffee shop didn’t have cups? Would we sell frozen coffee on a stick? Well, its odd, but it’s a new idea!

Get all the bad ideas out of the way

When it comes to sharing ideas some people feel foolish or anxious about speaking their mind. One way to warm them up is to encourage people to share the worst ideas they can come up with to solve a problem. 

First of all, this is great fun. It encourages creative thinking in a risk free environment. Second of all sometimes people say something that actually triggers a good idea. You’d be surprised how often a suggesting a bad idea leads to someone saying “wait a minute… there’s something in this!!!”

Engage your inner artist

In a world of whiteboards, sharpies and sticky notes there is no excuse for not engaging your artistic side. People often find visual stimuli helps them to develop more creative ideas. The two most comment approaches in ideation sessions are user interface sketching: drawing the actual product or service that the user sees; and storyboarding: drawing the journey that the user will go on as they buy and use your product or service. 

A good diagram can become the heart of a project or business. I drew the functional architecture for a bank that I was building on a sheet of A3 paper at the end of my first week on the job. We revisited that diagram regularly for two years until the bank was built. It became like a banner that the project team rallied around. I still have the original in my desk draw.


Human beings thrive on stories, we use them to make sense of the world around us and to remember our histories. One method of ideation uses analogous stories that relate to the challenge or problem at hand to drive out new ideas. 

This technique is a great way for one industry to borrow learnings from another too. Sometimes by telling a story about how the travel industry modernised its processes other retailers might garner ideas that could revolutionise their own way of doing business. 


There are lots of good examples online of teams that have created games to drive more engagement in the ideation process. Sometimes a simple competition for the best solution with pitches and voting at the end of the day works well, but sometimes you can be even more creative. 

One good example is the headline game where teams try to write an attention grabbing front page article that talks about their idea. 


First of all, we do not advocate stealing other peoples ideas. However, there is an enormous amount of good stimulus available in the real world. The Google sprint methodology encourages teams to perform three minute demos of competing or similar solutions to the one being designed. Best features are captured as stimulus for further discussion. 

This is a great way to avoid wasting time re-inventing the wheel and it allows the team to focus their creative juices on coming up with new ideas. 

Actually build the something and get people to use it

This might sound like leaping from ideation to the final solution, but that’s not quite what we mean. 

Sometimes the product or service being designed can be delivered using people, paper, simple web development and even a bit of good old Lego. By creating a prototype, no matter how loose, we can start to get real people interacting with an idea and providing invaluable feedback. This is a really quick way to iterate and design a better final solution. 

For instance we use ZeroCode to develop web and mobile app prototypes and to launch them quickly. We can then capture data on cost to acquire customers, conversion rates, customer and user experience. This is data that most companies wouldn’t have until they launched. 

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