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The Importance of Pre- and Post-Idea Generation

So much has been written about the importance of generating lots of ideas. During idea generation, I and most other facilitators stress—even preach—that quantity leads to quality. That is to say, you do not get the big idea by generating just one or a few ideas—you need to create hundreds. It is like photography—to get the perfect picture, you have to take hundreds of photographs; it does not happen in one shot.

So why do I say it is not just about having tons of ideas?

It's because what happens before and after you generate tons of ideas is just as, and maybe even more important than, the quantity of ideas generated.

Before Idea Generation—Explore the Areas of Opportunity with the Greatest Potential

Generating tons of ideas within clearly identified areas of opportunity—those that are truly meaningful and most relevant to consumers—will produce many more winning ideas than generating lots of ideas randomly and without focus. That may seem obvious, yet many brainstorming sessions lack focus. Even good ideation sessions often do not get to the heart of what consumers really want, and then idea generation is not focused on what is most relevant: the areas with the most potential.

So, before you generate lots of ideas, it it critical to take the time to: 

  • Creatively look at the broad opportunity from multiple perspectives, with both consumers and your team.
  • Challenge your assumptions.
  • Dig deep to uncover consumers' current and emerging needs, problems, issues, desired experiences and wishes. Then, dig deeper to understand the why—the driving insight—behind each one.
  • Identify the most relevant areas of opportunity. What is the most fertile territory to explore? Where are you most likely to create winning ideas for consumers?

During Idea Generation—Generate Tons of Ideas in the Most Promising Areas

  • Co-create ideas with consumers and your team to ensure relevance.
  • S-t-r-e-t-c-h for ideas that are unique. Use excursion techniques to push beyond the obvious, the logical and the rational.
  • Don't sensor or judge ideas—go for quantity!
  • Build on ideas. Use the ideas of others to stimulate your thinking.

After Idea Generation—Systematically Select the Best Ideas and Optimize Them

Identifying the best ideas is not always easy. It helps to:

  • Have clear criteria that help your team focus on ideas that are both relevant and unique. These ideas are meaningful to consumers and meet a key need in a way that is unique and better than current offerings—a way that sets you apart. 
  • Encourage risk taking. Sometimes teams fall into the trap of choosing only the safe, close-in ideas—and leaving the really unique and innovative ideas on the table.
  • Bring a range of ideas to the surface. This includes some ideas that everyone agrees on, as well as some ideas that individuals have great heart for.
  • Discuss and agree on the top ideas, and then use Forness® thinking to strengthen and optimize each one.

So, yes—you should generate tons of ideas to be successful. But quantity does not automatically lead to quality. You need to do more.

For the greatest chance of success, I find that it's best to give as much time to the front and back end of the process as to the idea generation itself.

Have you seen this practice at work in your organization? How has it been effective for you?


John Pfeil is an Innovation Process Facilitator Emeritus 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.

©2013 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ideas To Go

Ideas To Go is an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.