Ideation: Enhancing Creativity

How to encourage the formation of ideas and solutions.

Jun 6, 2018 2:18 PM3 Minute Read

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    When it comes to business, how are good ideas formed — and how can you foster more of them?

    Ideas are the mental pictures we create around feasible solutions to the problems we face in everyday life. The best ones satisfy fundamental human needs, or desires, and it is that wide appeal which makes them highly beneficial — as well as highly scalable. The flames of good ideas are born from the sparks of human creativity and fueled by the complimenting influences of environment, multidisciplinary knowledge, interactions and hunches.

    In this article, we'll first explore a little bit about how ideas are formed and then review some suggestions for how this formation can be encouraged.

    The Four Stages of Idea Generation

    While our creative ideas tend to appear as if out of nowhere, they typically mature over time and develop in four stages:*

    1. Preparation: where we identify and define an issue.
    2. Incubation: where we recognize and internalize problems but continue to go about our normal business.
    3. Illumination: where our hunches combine, resulting in "lightbulb" moments.
    4. Verification: where our solutions are tested, implemented and refined.

    It is important to acknowledge that our problem-solving ideas are not solely generated in "flash" moments but are most often developed over stretches of time and result from the combination of numerous and varied influences.

    Encouraging New Ideas

    Now that we know how ideas are born, how can we help to encourage more of them? Regardless of your organizational size, if you wish to promote ideation, consideration should be given to some key "design elements." These include: environmental design, interaction design and ideation design. Here are some examples of what we mean:

    Environmental design:

    1. Design of common spaces - Creating common areas that are both structurally welcoming and artistically appealing will facilitate ideation and increase employee engagement. The more team members convene in spaces like this, the higher the likelihood ideas will be generated, combined and workshopped.
    2. Design of personal spaces - One way to cultivate individual creativity, and by extension collective creativity, is by encouraging colleagues to personalize their surroundings in a manner that expresses their individuality and is likely to ignite discussions among colleagues.

    Interaction design:

    1. Colleague connectivity - When determining the design of floor plans, consideration should be given to what functions would work best when located in close proximity and which may derail one another if not give adequate separation. Considerations may include benefit of increased collaboration, compatibility of activity levels, functional compliment, and need for shared vs. private spaces.
    2. Team formation - Whether for innovative projects or day-to-day work, care should be taken to ensure teams are composed not just of experts in the respective fields related to the project, but also that the individuals can offer unique perspectives, whether technically, culturally or experientially.

    Ideation design:

    1. Carving out time - While some ideation occurs through the normal course of our daily tasks, it has been found that dedicating time specifically to idea generation leads to more frequent breakthroughs. Additionally, while we can brainstorm in solitude, setting aside this time in conjunction with others who have diverse perspectives will move us further than we can get alone.
    2. Looking externally - When seeking solutions to our problems, our view tends to get entrenched within our own industry and scope of experience. However, examining industries outside of our own can often result in cross adaptive solutions or even generate brand new ideas from exposure to varied inspiration.

    Final Thoughts

    Whether operating alone or in a company of 10 or 10,000, curiosity and perpetual multidisciplinary learning are the keys to continued innovation and the generation of expansive ideas. In order to discover the next breakthrough, our minds must be given the latitude to wander and we must be presented with both structure and stimuli that encourage focused ideation. And when it seems like you've hit that preverbal "brick wall," take a short break, switch tasks or venture on a brief walk - you might find that putting a little mental space between your brain and the problem you wish to solve leads to your best idea yet!


    * "Generating Innovative Ideas, Innovation Management," Goffin and Mitchell.

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