What do Hollywood Director JJ Abrams, singer and songwriter Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics, Twitter CEO Evan Williams, and Melinda Gates – who oversees the worlds largest philanthropic organization – have in common? They all made the Fast Company Magazine, 100 Most Creative People in Business list.
But what makes them so creative and innovative? What's behind the next Sci-Fi blockbuster, the words for a hit new song, a global social network, or improved heath and education in the developing world? The answer is simple – ideas.
The Most Creative People in Business have an abundant source of good ideas. The great thing is you can develop this capability too.
If you want to out-innovate the competition you first need to out-think them. Ideation is the process of generating, exploring, and evaluating new ideas that can give your business a competitive advantage.
Just imagine ideation as a funnel. Insights, views, opinions, data, trends, and knowledge, are captured at the top. Then these elements are filtered in the middle to get the good stuff – new ideas – out the other side.
There are four key steps in the ideation process:
- Gather customer insights: Review customer research reports, analyze competitors, social trends, lifestyle patterns, and shopping habits. Search blogs, social networks, and customer service records. Conduct a number of contextual interviews (in-home, in-office, in-mall) with your target customers to understand their behavior in an everyday environment.
- Find opportunity areas: Look for customer pain-points, problems, inefficient processes, or abnormal behavior. Give these areas names since these themes will serve as vehicles for exploring and developing new ideas.
- Brainstorm ideas: Create actionable design statements around your opportunity areas like "How might we improve our product delivery times?" or "What can improve our online user experience?" to provide stimulus and guidelines for brainstorming. Start generating lots of ideas, make sure these ideas are grounded by your customer insights and go for quantity.
- Prioritize ideas: Develop some customer criteria like "Does this idea improve customers lives?"or "Is the idea different from what customers are using today?" and business criteria like "Does this idea build on the strengths of our core business model?" to help evaluate, rank and select the best ideas.
The 100 Most Creative People in Business have the knack of being able to repeat this process again and again to generate fresh ideas. However even the best can get lost and lose focus so here are a few things to watch out for:
- Ideation is not about defining solutions – ideation is about thinking and learning.
- Ideation is not about brilliant strategies – ideation is about exploration and direction setting.
- Ideation is not about creating advertising tag lines or flashy marketing – ideation is about understanding customer experiences.