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    Ideation Techniques: We Like Them. We Just Don’t Know Them.

    SmartStorming Mind MappingGroup brainstorming, as we know it today, has been around since the 1930s. For the most part, it hasn’t changed all that much in the past seventy-plus years, except in one respect: the development of new ideation techniques.

    Ideation techniques are, quite simply, novel thought-provoking exercises designed to help groups tackle challenges in ways they might not otherwise consider. Some make it easier for groups to view issues from fresh perspectives; others provide engaging processes to help stimulate imagination, overcome shyness, facilitate collaboration, and much more.

    In short, ideation techniques make it possible for groups to generate a greater breadth and depth of ideas (i.e., more, better ideas).

    Anyone who takes even a few moments to Google “ideation techniques” will learn that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, around. Some are well-known and extensively documented; others are less-so.

    We recently conducted a survey among our network to find out just where people stand on ideation techniques—which ones they know, which ones they use in brainstorms, and what they think about them. The results are interesting, if not completely surprising.

    When asked whether they believe knowing and using different ideation techniques is beneficial to brainstorming, the answer was a resounding “Yes!”

    “…it helps you see more possibilities and solutions”

    “…otherwise all people do it sit in a room and go around in circles discussing the same old issues & thoughts without any focus or direction.”

    “It directs and channels your thinking.”

    “… solutions can arise unconventionally, where otherwise no solutions may have surfaced creatively.”

    Many respondents also suggested that knowing and understanding a variety of techniques is critical to group brainstorming success (a notion we at SmartStorming wholeheartedly agree with).

    “The more techniques you can use the more chance you have of getting better results from a group.”

    “…You have to match the technique to the objective and the strengths/weaknesses of the group.”

    “…the more tools you bring to the stage, the more likely you are to come up with a hit.”

    “…if you use only one brainstorming technique, you’ll lose the crispness of creativity.”

    However, when provided a list of well-known ideation techniques, only one had relatively broad awareness—Mind Mapping—followed by Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and the widely-used S.W.O.T. Analysis. All others listed had less than 7% awareness.

    Mind Mapping – 23%
    S.W.O.T. Analysis – 20%
    Six Thinking Hats – 19%
    180-Degree Thinking/Reversal – 8%
    SCAMPER – 7%
    In Their Shoes – 6%
    All others – <3%

    And when asked what other techniques (not listed in the survey) they used, more than 54% of listed no additional techniques at all; and fewer than 10% listed more than two.

    It is important to note that this survey was conducted among our network of readers, presumably an audience that is more tuned-in to advanced brainstorming and ideation techniques than the average businessperson. And yet, it is clear that even among this group, very few know, understand and use a range of ideation techniques.

    Again, this result isn’t entirely surprising. In our own ongoing research, we find that fewer than 10% of individuals in any industry (even creativity-focused businesses like advertising and design) have had any training whatsoever in brainstorming and group ideation. Those that have typically know one or two ideation techniques, but nothing about brainstorming session structure or facilitation skills.

    And so it would appear that while we understand and acknowledge the value of having a library of ideation techniques at our disposal, few of us make the effort to identify and learn those techniques.

    In this era of the “innovation economy,” it is bewildering that individuals and organizations still don’t recognize the importance of idea generation. Business success today requires continuous reevaluation and reinvention of one’s business offering. Once organizations could thrive for decades on a single great idea; today they need a great idea every year, and in some cases every month or week.

    Only by taking the personal initiative to educate oneself in a variety of ideation techniques—and to offer training throughout one’s organization in effective brainstorm leadership and facilitation—can anyone hope to survive and thrive in today’s competitive business environment.

    Innovation begins with ideas. No ideas, no innovation.

    How many great ideas did you and your team come up with today?


    Note: Here’s a full list of all ideation techniques mentioned by survey respondents. They’re a good start for building your own library!

    Mind Mapping
    S.W.O.T. Analysis
    Six Thinking Hats
    180-Degree Thinking/Reversal
    In Their Shoes
    3-D Ideation (SmartStorming)
    Group Graffitti
    Divergent/Convergent Thinking
    Process & Task Orientation
    Role Reversal (similar to “In Their Shoes”)
    Working Backwards
    Analografiti by Vera F. Birkenbihl
    Subconscious Ideation
    Delphi Method
    Zero Draft
    Rapid Writing
    Random Input/Analogy
    Alter Ego
    What If?
    Parallel Design
    How Might Be?
    Facilitated Creative Visualization
    Socratic Questioning
    Kills the Sacred Cows (similar to 180-Degree Thinking)
    Random Stimulation
    Forced Connection
    Ask a Stranger

    And here is webpage with a fairly extensive listing of techniques you can explore and use:


    5 Responses to “Ideation Techniques: We Like Them. We Just Don’t Know Them.”

    1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ideahive, Duane B Thomas, Mitchell & Keith, Mitchell & Keith, Lino Petelinkar and others. Lino Petelinkar said: RT @SmartStorming: "Ideation Techniques: We Like Them. We Just Don’t Know Them." #creativity #innovation #management [...]

    2. [...] SmartStorming’s blog shows the research and recommend a great site to use to brush up on your idea generating intelligence [...]

    3. I’m surprised TRIZ isn’t up there. TRIZ is a systematic approach to solving problems innovatively, but part of the process is using the solution triggers to stimulate creativity. I know both a design agency and a medical device company that just use the 40 Inventive Principles to keep their brainstorming sessions going – they say it makes them last much longer and become more productive.

      A lot of these techniques are about breaking your psychological inertia and getting you to view your problem or situation from a new point of view – I wonder how much of the positive effect is just using ANY technique , rather than approaching it in an unstructured way?

    4. admin says:

      Not including TRIZ in the list was an oversight. It is certainly an established and respected method. To your point about “how much of the positive effect is just using ANY technique,” in our work, we’ve found that to be correct – to a point. Just “mixing things up” absolutely helps energize a group, free them from repetitive thinking and inspire greater spontaneity. HOWEVER, a skilled facilitator with an understanding of a number of techniques can match the method to the situation – the specific challenge in question, where in the ideation process the group happens to be, what immediate roadblocks the group is facing, etc. When this happens, the number and quality of ideas increases dramatically. Productivity soars!

      Thanks so much for your comment, Lilly! We look forward to continuing our conversations.

    5. [...] Check out the Innovation Weblog post here and the SmartStorming Survey here. [...]

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