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10 Tips for Having Great Ideas - #10 Turn on the tap

Someone recently asked us how the design team at The Imagination Factory approaches repeatable idea generation in the projects we work on. It made us stop and think and we ended up with a list of 10 top tips for having great ideas which we thought might be useful to share.
In his influential book The Innovation MazeGijs van Wulfen refers to a study carried out in 1997 that revealed that 3000 raw ideas translate to 1 commercial success. This might not be particularly surprising to anyone involved with innovation who is aware of the need to keep generating a wealth of new seed ideas. However, what is counter-intuitive is that in the period between the mid 90s and 2010 the amount of innovations described as 'new to the world and new to the market' dropped by around 10%.

In an era that most of us would associate with an explosion of innovation the figures suggest that in fact there has been a reduction in the number breakthrough product ideas. There are numerous reasons for this most of which are associated with the inherent risk that a company faces when it engages with innovating new products.

But one aspect that should not be ignored is the effort it takes to keep a flow of ideas moving along so that there is a chance of finding that 1 in 3000.

The strange thing about ideas is that they are like water flowing down a pipe. If we don't get them out of our heads somehow the flow often reduces down to a trickle. Studies into brain plasticity in recent years have shown that the brain is naturally lazy in that it tends to find the most energy efficient path. Generating ideas takes effort and is not an activity the brain always enjoys as it involves so much uncertainty. Often we would rather focus on something that has a degree of instant gratification and achievement. The good news is that developing the brain's plasticity is relatively simple as discussed in this article on Fast Company.

One of the key elements is repetition which is why the best way to generate good ideas is simply to keep generating any kind of idea; good, bad or indifferent. At The Imagination Factory we are big fans of constantly writing ideas down on sticky notes or creating 'Concept Posters' which are simple A3 sized posters that contain a sketch of the idea, a catchy title and a list of the features and benefits. This habit not only helps us record ideas but we believe is key to the ability to maintain creativity.


By Mark Hester