2 - Ideation

Answer: Become a Great Ideator

After you have a set of core Needs from doing step 1, you are ready to come up with solutions for those needs, which is just another way of saying startup ideas. Because these Needs are unsolved, you are going to have to come up with a creative solution, that doesn’t exist yet. Sound tough? it is, but we have a couple of secrets for you. first, an entrepreneur is really just a creative problem solver. And what makes them ‘entrepreneurial’ is that they are relentlessly solving problems creatively. That’s really what step 2 is about, how to think creatively and become great at ideation.

A team from the QØ Catapult Incubator Ideating, look at them go.

A team from the QØ Catapult Incubator Ideating, look at them go.


Creativity is a Skill that Can be Learned

It’s a commonly held belief that some folks are born with an innate ability to be creative, and others aren’t. Actually, everyone can have great ideas with the right environment, prompts, and habits. Creativity isn’t about creative people, it’s about creative acts.

Everyone has good ideas

Each of us has come up with at least one good idea in the past. Maybe you figured out ways to make a process faster, a product better, a service cheaper. Yet even in the face of that proof, we often dismiss our own abilities to be creative. The first step to being more creative is acknowledging that it’s a skill, not a talent.

Everyone can get better at having great ideas

Ideation is a skill. And like any skill, it takes dedicated, conscious practice to improve. What spurs you to have your best ideas? Whatever it is, do it more often. When can you practice More? Make it happen. What other techniques can you employ? Brainstorming is not the only kind of ideation. As you work to enhance your creativity skills, you’ll be amazed at how many great ideas you have.

You are better at ideating than an adult

Seriously, you are inherently better at ideation than adults, but you lose this as you get older so you need to practice, that’s what the following steps are for. While you are naturally better at ideation, you also have a tendency to overlook existing solutions that you could augment, tweak, and mash together creatively to build a new solution. Don’t always try to reinvent the wheel. Read on for tips on how to come up with a great startup idea.


10 Habits of Great Ideators

Consistently coming up with great startup ideas isn’t luck. With the right practices, environments, and habits, we can all get better at generating ideas.

1. Start with a Need

It was Ben Franklin who said that ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ A principle he applied throughout his life to a host of innovations that are impressive for their breadth and variety, as well as their ingenuity.

Ben franklin invented a number of things include the bi-focals and swimming fins for your feet.  Thanks, Ben.

Ben franklin invented a number of things include the bi-focals and swimming fins for your feet.  Thanks, Ben.

2. Create a supportive environment

The iconoclastic designer Yoshiro Nakamatsu has created an extremely personalized, sophisticated environment to stimulate and nurture his creativity, including sensory deprivation tanks and special stereo goggles that project patterns intended to put him into his creative sweet spot.  Ever noticed how you best ideas come in the shower?

Yoshiro was a master at creating spaces where we was free to think creatively, you can see how a swimming pool would be a good place.

Yoshiro was a master at creating spaces where we was free to think creatively, you can see how a swimming pool would be a good place.

3. Gather different Voices

People who are similar often think the same way and come up with the same ideas. Since we are looking for variety, get lots of different people involved

4. Feed your head

Charles Darwin was astute not only in his observations, but also in his own process of learning and relating to the world around him. For him, travel involved seeing diverse data and making connections

Museums are a great place to go to get feed your head with creativity.  Often they are free our steeply discounted for students

Museums are a great place to go to get feed your head with creativity.  Often they are free our steeply discounted for students

5. Ask stupid questions

Albert Einstein had a knack for asking very good questions that were deceptively simple and childlike. His question, ‘what would it be like to ride a beam of light?’ Led to his Theory of Relativity

6. Encourage wild ideas

Walt Disney pushed his creative staff to over-the-top designs for Disneyworld installations and movie plots. He continually challenged his team to come up with new ideas, to amuse and amaze him; according to several accounts he demanded independent and daring thinking outright.

Disneyworld ride 'It's a Small World'

Disneyworld ride 'It's a Small World'

7. Keep an idea log

Leonardo d Vinci’s notebooks are the manifestations of an extraordinarily creative, inquisitive mind. A single page, for example, taking off from his interest in curves, shows an exercise in the geometry of curves, a drawing of curly hair, grasses curing around an arum lily, sketches of trees, curve some clouds, rippling waves, of water, a printing horse, and the design of a screw press. We recommend this Idea Log

A page from one of Da Vinici's many idea logs.  Go get a notebook to carry around with you

A page from one of Da Vinici's many idea logs.  Go get a notebook to carry around with you

8. Go for quantity

Pablo Picasso said, “the fact that I paint such a large number of studies is simply part of my manner of working. I do a hundred studies in a few days, whereas another painter might spend a hundred days on a single painting. By carrying on, I will open windows. I will go behind the canvas, and perhaps something will be brought out”

9. Use the buddy system

Having a partner to bounce ideas back and forth off of is key, you will noticing things in each others ideas and build off them.

10. Make bad ideas better

Thomas Edison’s motto was, “there is a better way. Find it!” In his description of how he invented the kinescope, he said, “all I have done is to perfect what has been attempted before, but did not succeed.”


Warm up your creativity

Here’s something you can do in 3 minutes to warm up your creativity. You are going to need a piece of paper and something to write with. Your task is to come up with as many uses for a pencil as you can think of. You get 3 minutes. Go for Quantity. Do it now!

 

How’d it go? What did you notice? Here’s a few things we’ve noticed over the years:

Quantity yields quality

Over the years, one universal truth we’ve noticed is that if you want to come up with better ideas, come up with more ideas. Quantity yields quality – the more ideas you have, the more likely it is that some of those ideas are going to be great. And coming up with bad ideas is key. It’s those absurd ideas that can help us ricochet back to the really great ideas we’re looking for.

Start by cleaning out the pipeline

The first few minutes of an ideation session are really about unloading all of the obvious solutions so that you can get to the good stuff. So don’t stop after 5 minutes. A ‘quick’ brainstorm rarely works.

Ideas bring unexpected inspiration

At some point, the quality of ideas hits a plateau. And that’s when experienced ideates will start throwing out all sorts of random thoughts. Most of those ideas will be pretty dumb. Hopefully, the ideas get stupid enough that we start to laugh, or take the conversation in unexpected directions. Like magic, brilliant ideas will start to appear.

The quality of ideas will ebb and flow

Better ideas show up over time. But more importantly, in order to get to the next plateau of quality, you have to be willing to go through rough patches when all of the stuff you’re coming up with is absolutely silly, impractical or irrelevant.

Example 3-minute brainstorm for uses of a pencil.  I got 32! try to beat me.

Example 3-minute brainstorm for uses of a pencil.  I got 32! try to beat me.

 

 

A Key Ideation Technique – Half Sheets

This activity uses the Needs you found in step 1 from analyzing your in person interview as the inputs for creating great solutions. In addition to the 3-4 Needs you want to solve for, you will need a stack of 1/2 sheets of paper, sharpies, and pens for the group

Your task is to come up 20-30 ideas, each idea is represented on a 1/2 sheet of paper. Here’s what each idea should include

  • Name across the top in sharpie
  • 1-sentence description of the idea in pen just underneath the title
  • fuller description of the idea
  • A drawing with any callouts that are necessary
 
Here's an example half-sheet from a QØ Catapult Incubator team.  Even simple drawings can be helpful in bringing an idea to life and communicating it to others.

Here's an example half-sheet from a QØ Catapult Incubator team.  Even simple drawings can be helpful in bringing an idea to life and communicating it to others.


Here’s the process to follow:

  • Select one of your Needs and explain any context around the Need, who it came from, etc.
  • Set a timer for 5 minutes, and have each member of the team create 1 1/2 sheet in that time
  • After 5 minutes is up, each person should share in 30 seconds or less their idea, and let the the group respond with any ideas that come from that
  • Repeat, using the same Need or by choosing a new one
  • Continue this process until you have 20-30 1/2 sheets each representing a distinct idea. Quantity yields Quality!
  • Once finished, find a table or wall to layout all the ideas, take 5 minutes and have people look through all the ideas again, on their own, and put a star next to the 3 ideas that they think are best. At the end 5-8 ideas should rise to the top as peoples favorites.
  • Have a discussion about why people chose what they chose, any patterns you notice, and as a group decided on the top 3-5 ideas you want to move forward with.

Recap

As an entrepreneur, ideation isn’t something you do once, it happens over and over again. By nature, entrepreneurs are creative problem solvers, and ideation is one piece of creativity. You must have Needs as the starting point for good ideation. You may come up with good ideas, but if they aren’t solving peoples needs, then you don’t have a business. Don’t forget, creativity can be learned, keep honing your skills.

Ready for the next Step?

Now that you have your top ideas, it’s time to test them out! That’s where prototyping comes in, making your ideas real, quickly and cheaply, so that you can see if people actually like/need/will pay for what you are proposing. Ready? take me to step 3: Prototyping - how to test if my ideas is any good.

More Resources

Buy this Idea Log used by Chris Kosednar, Quarter Zerø Product Lead, himself.
10 more ideation techniques
31 ways to be creative