Idea generation

From Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search

back to Innovation Activities


Creativity and idea generation has always played a central role in the innovation process. However, still too often idea generation is taken as synonymous with innovation. Idea generation however without 1. enriching the idea and elaborating it into a concept and without combining it with a superior business model, using the knowledge within the organization about technology’s, customers and markets, and without 2. building a business case that supports decision making and without 3. the leadership to commit the essentential internal and external stakeholders the idea will not result in an innovation. We most often see in organizations at the lowest level of our Innovation Capability Model, level 1, creativity and idea generation is held synonymous with innovation (See module 01 Innovation audit).

Aside of using idea generation as synonymous with innovation other misconceptions exists, such as: 1. idea generation is the start of the innovation process 2. After idea generation, the idea merely has to be transformed into a project plan, to start. When we study the innovation process more closely, we conclude that as preparation for idea generation, a solid study of the environment and an in depth problem- and opportunity analysis strongly increases the rate of success (see Module 2 Foresight and module 3 Opportunity analysis). Furthermore, we can conclude that an idea will seldom result in a new product or service ,process or whatsoever, without the generation of additional ideas. Sometimes, at the end, we cannot even recognize the original idea, because it has changed and been adapted several times. When we elaborate an idea into a customer value proposition many white spots become apparent where we need additional information. Also, when developing the product concept, revenue- and business model additional idea generation is of the greatest importance. With other words, in this phase the innovation process contains many dead ends and feedback loops. The process is highly cyclic and analysis of problems and detecting new opportunities, idea generation and elaboration of these ideas alternate, until the result satisfy certain minimum criteria. It will pass the gate to the next phase. In this way it will go through the entire pre-project phase. When the pre-project work has been done in a solid way and the project plan is ready we start the development process, in which we invest more resources. In that phase speed and efficiency plays a central role. Therefore in that phase we do not like the many feedback loops and returns to earlier phases.

In this module some of the most prominent idea generation methods will be discussed. Tools that support these methods will be offered to become more accustomed to these methods. In addition we shall also briefly discuss idea management. How can we capture, score, prioritize ideas from inside and outside the organization and select the most attractive ones for elaboration in the next, concept, phase.

The five idea generation methods, that we will discuss are: 1. Mind mapping

2. Group Decisions Support Systems

3. De BONO 6 Hats

4. SIT (Systematic Inventive Thinking)

5. TRIZ (Russian acronym for Theory of Inventive Problem Solving)

The methods mentioned above will, from 1 to 5, become increasingly more structured. Often in methods such as TRIZ opportunity analysis ( see module 02) and idea generation are very much integrated with each other.



Mind Mapping is a creative technique, that stimulates and supports people to use certain parts of their brain, which normally are not used. Mind mapping is developed by the Englishman Tony Buzan. Mind Mapping can be used for: 1. structuring complex information 2. the organization of thoughts. By using Mind Mapping a group exchanges information faster, communicates better en and creativity will be stimulated.

There are several mind map software tools available. The most well known is Mind Manager form the company Mindjet. Moreover, there are several free ware mind mapping programs available such as Inforapid and Freemind. In the Innovation Management Suite we often start with mind mapping. The mapping tools in the IMS are different from the other mind mapping tools because of : 1. its use of different icons for different classes of elements, such as stakeholders, values and attributes, 2. we also score a relation between 2 elements, 3. and lastly because these mind maps can be transformed into predefined matrix views. This stimulates the analysis of the mind maps. Moreover the mind maps can be transformed into causal diagrams. In causal diagrams relations between elements have a (cause effect) direction. With other words in the world of mind map tools one can choose between mind mapping tools with a low level of structuring such as Mind Manager, Inforapid and Free mind, and tools that provide more structuring such as IMS and System Dynamics tools such as Vensim, IThink, Powersim. The level of visualization between the various tools also differs. Therefore it is important to choose the most appropriate tool for the job. Below you find 3 examples of mind map tools, 2 in the traditional mind map tools such as Mind manager and IMS.


GDSS (Groups Decision Support System) enables groups to meet electronically. Questions are presented on a large screen and the participants can use their keyboards to implement their ideas into the system. These keyboards are connected to a server, that transfers their signals to the central PC. The results are immediately available. The groups usually consist of between 10 and 30 people.

The advantage of GDDS systems, which is the anonymity of the participants, also has its disadvantages. One misses the discussions that help to articulate gut feeling and intuitions. Pure GDDS systems therefore have a disadvantage compared to hybrid systems. In these hybrid systems the anonymity of the GDDS can be combined with the groups discussion stimulating mind map functionality as described above.

There are a number of GDDS software tools available. Below you will find some web links to GDDS systems. You will also find a link to a tutorial about the use of IMS as a group decision support system.



The six hats insure that everybody in the group is in the same phase of the idea generation process (articulation of intuitions and idea generation, knowledge sharing and analysis, judgment and decision making). For this, one uses the metaphor of the hats. The color of the hat urges everybody to concentrate on a certain aspect of the idea generation process. We distinguish the next 6 hats:

1. The white hat asks to bring forward known information or to ask for specific information.

2. The red hat indicates to expression of certain feelings and intuitions, that belongs to the problem.

3. The black hat indicates judgment. One plays the role of devil’s advocate. Why is something going to fail.

4. The yellow hat symbolizes optimism.

5. The green hat focuses on creativity, options, alternatives and new ideas.

6. The blue hat is used for managing the thinking process.

The six hats of De Bono can be used to guide a group through a complex idea generation process in a systematic and disciplined way.


SIT starts with an existing product, service or production process and elements from the direct environment (Closed world principle). Starting from what already exists the new will be developed. The result is a faster process, with a shorter list of useful ideas, than other idea generation methods such as TRIZ (out of the box thinking). The “closed world principle” also provides a faster implementation.

SIT works with 5 different thinking styles. These lead to specific and practical ideas on a structured and disciplined way: these are:

1. SUBTRACTION. Generally speaking there is a tendency to add new aspects and functionalities during product development. However, successful innovations show that often more is achieved by removing aspects or functionalities. One should take a systematic look at what impact it would have on the various customer groups if one were to remove a functionality. Many customers use only a fraction of the total number of functionalities that are available, which means that they end up paying for functionalities that do not contribute to their appreciation. Discounters like Aldi and RyanAir are examples of this approach.

2. MULTIPLICATION. Rather than subtracting elements, one can double or triple certain components of the product. Instead of a two-wheel-drive one offers a four-wheel-drive, and one includes five audio speakers rather than four.

3. DIVISION. One divides a product into its components, offering modules that can be used to construct the eventual product. Rather than buying an integrated sound system, people can purchase a tuner, amplifier, speakers, DVD-player, etc. separately.

4. MERGING OF TASKS. Here two tasks are merged into one component. For example a coffee machine combined with a thermos.

5. CHANGE THE DEGREE OF DEPENDENCY OF A FEATURE. This is quite a mouthful. Take, for instance, a pair of sunglasses. The lenses in Polaroid sunglasses change color when they are exposed to varying amounts of light. The processors of laptop computers, to name another example, alter their processing speed when the batteries are running low.

(uit HBR 2003-05-03; Goldenberg, Horowitz, Levav and Mazurski)

SIT is deduced from TRIZ. Some people name SIT the simplified form of TRIZ. Where SIT stimulates the “in the box thinking”, TRIZ stimulates the “out of the box thinking”. In the next paragraph we will discuss TRIZ.


TRIZ is a Russian acronym of ‘Teoriya Resheniya Izobreatatelskikh Zadatch’, which means as much as: ‘Theory of Inventive Problem Solving’. The founder of TRIZ is the Russian engineer Genrich Altshuller. In 1946 Altshuller started with the development of the theory during his work at the Russian patent office of the Russian Marine. He was fascinated by the question how inventions were created. Are inventions unique ideas coming from a genial mind? Are they created by accident? Or is their a systematic way to generate inventions? Altshuller did not believed in the trial and error method that among others was used by Thomas Edison (Innovation is 1 % inspiration and 99% transpiration). He started to look for a more efficient and systematic method. He was convinced that at the base of invention are systematic patterns or certain specific heuristics. To validate this hypothesis he studied 100000 of patents on commonalities and repeating thinking patterns. At this time TRIZ scientists have studied many millions of patents and developed the TRIZ method further.

Below you will find a tool, with which one can apply the 40 innovation principles from the contradiction matrix. Below that you will find a tool that helps to study the past en potential future evolution of a product.



The idea management focuses on:

1. the capturing of ideas from as many sides as possible form inside and outside the organization

2. The scoring of these ideas on attractivity and feasibility

3. Prioritizing and selecting ideas for further elaboration into a concept and plan

4. Facilitating this process from business idea to concept and plan and managing the gates in between the idea generation-, concept- and feasibility phase, and in between the predevelopment and development phase.

To this end one increasingly makes use of intranet as a medium to offer idea inputs into the idea management system and to facilitate the process.

After the generation and capturing the ideas are scored, prioritized and selected for elaboration in the next phases of the development stage gate process. For scoring etc every organization has its own specific lists of criteria, which have to be adjusted to the different idea classes.



A number of psychological tests exist that assess the characteristic personality traits of creative people. One of the best validated test is the big five. This test measure the following personality traits:

In management the Belbin test is also used very often. This test give insight which of the 8 team roles fits a person best. The plant is the team role that belongs to creative individuals. The test below is designed R.Groen. Below a description of the team roles as described by Belbin (From R. Meredith Belbin, management teams, why they succeed and fail, Butterswoth-Heineman, 1981).

Headline text

Personal tools