Techniques for generating ideas

Modified on Thu, 15 Sep 2022 at 05:31 PM

Five people holding five different coloured leaves

Ideas are often the start of innovation, but it can be tough to get people to come up with new thinking. Generating ideas requires us to think in a different way, and it's hard to break out of our usual day to day patterns of thought. This article will give you some tips on how to help your Solver community flex its creative muscle.

Promote divergent thinking

We are all very good at evaluating options available to us and making a decision, whether we’re deciding which pizza to order, trousers to wear, or person to hire – this is known as convergent thinking. Generating ideas, however, also needs divergent thinking to make unexpected connections or come up with new ways of doing things. 

There are a number of ways you can encourage divergent thinking in your people, including changing the setting in which people are thinking (why not go for a walk?), working with other people to bounce ideas off each other, having fun and playing games, and creating space and time for people to work in a relaxed manner. 

A key element is ensuring that everyone feels they can contribute anything, no matter how daft it might seem. Create a space where no one can criticise ideas, only build on them - why not try the improvisation game Yes, And, to see just how effective this is?

Empower your community

Before your people can be creative, they need to know that ideas - even those that aren't yet fully-formed - are positively encouraged. Adobe did this by creating the Adobe KickBox: an innovation pack available to any employee in the organisation. The box contained various supplies to help them generate and develop ideas, including a six-stage process to follow, and a $1000 card to spend in any way they chose with no need to get managerial approval. The KickBox helped Adobe go from generating 12-14 ideas a year to over 1,000 boxes distributed to date. (The Kickbox is now available as open source from Adobe.)

"The brilliance of the Kickbox isn’t that it gives employees a magic box, it’s that it gives them permission. And often, that’s all that required to unbox creativity." - David Burkus

Combine, experiment, have fun

Ideas often come from combining new people, ideas, concepts, or topics together, so don't be afraid to mix it up. Why not bring people together from very different parts of your organisation, or bring in friendly partners, suppliers or other members of your network to collaborate? Unexpected combinations can spark ideas or new ways of thinking, and sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to ask the obvious question.

Use tried and tested tools

There's a huge number of tools and techniques you can use to provoke creative thinking, many of them available as free resources and requiring only some pens and post-its to get going. We've listed some of our favourites in our article 'How to generate ideas - tools and techniques for ideation' and outlined some of our favourite sources below, but there are many more. 

Don't be afraid to try things out: creative sessions are by their nature a bit rough around the edges, so experiment, fail, refine and try again. Not only will you and your colleagues learn along the way, but a culture of experimentation is one in which creativity will flourish.

Further reading

Photo credit: Providence Doucet on Unsplash

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