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Ideation is foundational to innovation and so to success. But do you get it right? Well, likely not all the time. Key to its application and evolution is the need to form an idea, but then to test, re-ideate, refine, and iterate until you have something ready to launch.
Pathway to Innovation
Ideation is the indispensable first step in the process of innovation, which is itself about making positive changes for the future — improving things and creating something new. But innovation doesn’t just happen: It requires that you have a vision of what you want, then work towards making that a reality. In the ideation phase, you brainstorm ideas for how to solve a problem or create something new, and it is often the most fun part of the development process.
When you’re in ideation mode, you’re not just looking at what’s possible, but at what might be possible, which then allows opening your mind to all sorts of new ideas and innovations that would never have occurred to you if you’d simply focused on the practical applications of existing technology, for example.
A case in point: Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone was actually incidental to something else entirely: an improved hearing aid for his wife. His original idea was to use electricity to transmit sound directly into a person’s ear (as opposed to the audio speaker systems we still use today). But when Bell decided to add an amplifier so that multiple people could hear the sound at once, something magical happened: he created a device that allowed people anywhere in the world to converse instantly, and changed the world forever.
Related: Tackling Ideation in the Startup Realm is Easily Done (When Done Right)
How Most Companies Get Ideation Wrong
As a professional, I have worked with many companies and seen their ideating ways. Some of them are good, but most are not, and the way most companies get that concept wrong is that they have no structure to their process, which means they cannot get the best ideas from employees or customers. And without those, they cannot take on the problems that need solving.
In my analysis, ideas are like babies: They need to be nurtured and cared for if they’re going to grow into something with the potential to change the world. If you don’t take care of an idea, it will perish. What’s necessary is the development of a structured process that helps turn ideas into reality, because the truth is that ideation can be a long, slow process — one that can waste time, or worse, make you feel like a failure.
Some common pitfalls:
• Not giving a problem enough thought
• Not having a plan for getting started
• Not knowing when to stop collecting ideas
• Not knowing how to ensure that ideas are good
• Insistence upon thinking that an idea is great, even though it isn’t
Related: Providing an Ecosystem for Ideation
A Central Question
The best way to get ideation right is to ensure that you’re approaching it from the right place, and the first step in doing that is to ask, “Are we doing this because it’s what customers want, or because it’s what competitors are doing?” If you don’t firmly embrace the former, it’s likely time for a new approach.
Of course, a good idea is nothing without the right execution, so planning out what your ideation activity will entail is crucial to ensuring that an outcome is effective and predictable.
Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself: No one is perfect. The key is to learn from mistakes and come out of the process better off than you were. If you’re committed to driving innovation in your organization, ideation can be a powerful tool, but keep in mind that it’s an ongoing process that must be managed effectively. To truly harness its power, an organization needs to have a culture that values new ideas — one in which idea generation is not seen as a “soft” activity. Once this happens, the above approaches can be used to great effect.