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During ideation and consumer interaction, time is of the essence, so it’s important to keep the conversation on track. But there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. For example: Don’t do thisDon’t think of that. We’re not going to go there. Limitations like these quickly become the elephant in the room. They make the room feel smaller and suck all the life out of the discussion—and soon they’re the only thing anyone can think about. 

But limitations can help idea generation and lead to more ideas – if you use them the right way.

The key to using limitations correctly during idea generation is to change how you view them. Instead of blocking in thinking and adding restrictions, focus your thinking on an “Opportunity Area.”  

Same premise—you’re still preventing ideation from going off in random, unhelpful directions—but very, very different results.

Why does this work? 

First, because vocabulary is important.

By changing the vocabulary from “don’t think about x, y and z,” to “what does this Opportunity Area make you think of?” you’re telling your brain that you’re open to whatever possibilities may arise.

Idea generation is all about making connections between the challenge you’re trying to solve and your life experience/knowledge base. So when you ask your brain to focus in on an Opportunity Area and make new connections, you’re working with your brain, rather than against it. And, as long as you can connect that idea to the Opportunity Area, that idea isn’t bad or wrong (as your brain would interpret it if you were imposing limitations).

The vocabulary shift is also incredibly important because you avoid telling your brain “don’t think of this.” This keeps you from putting the elephant in the room in the first place.

Secondly, shifting your thinking to focusing on Opportunity Areas also increases your idea quantity. 

When people ideate without limitations, they begin by coming up with ideas fast and furious. The ideas are all over the board and they’re wildly creative—right until they hit a wall and run completely out of possibilities!

The human brain wants order, and so it channels thinking into pathways that it has used before. This happens a lot in ideation: people get stuck on a theme and all the ideas they come up with are centered on that theme.  As a result, they come up with tons of ideas, but the ideas don’t cover a broad range of opportunities.

Imposing limitations on ideation (in terms of a focus on an Opportunity Area), can combat this tendency. How? Simple—you deliberately focus on coming up with ideas in a single area (e.g. Customization) until you run out of ideas. Then, when that area is exhausted, you make a deliberate switch to a new focus (e.g. All-Natural).

The deliberate switching keeps your brain fresh by pushing you to look in different directions every time it gets stuck. It’s about staying nimble and looking for many options to get around that “don’t go there” elephant in the room. And the result is tens or hundreds of more ideas than you’d get by simply throwing yourself full-force in a single direction until you run out of gas.

So as you can see, limitations don’t have to be the bane of ideation sessions. When used properly, they can open the brain to new possibilities and also dramatically increase the number of ideas you create—and the number of ideas that make it to development and, eventually, to market.


This post was originally written by Katie Konrath. Ideas To Go is a company that develops customer-centered innovation for Fortune 500 companies.

©2014 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Katie Franke

Katie Franke is a Marketing Communications Specialist and Concept Writer at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.