What's Ideation? (With Definition and Tips for Ideating)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Ideating is a thought process where an individual or team develops an abundance of ideas to solve a problem. It's essentially a brainstorming technique belonging to a divergent thought process. Understanding what it means to ideate can help you adopt this creative thought process in your problem-solving skill set. In this article, we define ideation, discuss its benefits and share seven tips for you to consider when ideating.

What's ideation?

Ideation is the act of generating many ideas to solve a single problem. It's essentially divergent thinking and is very similar to the brainstorming technique. Divergent thinking is where people brainstorm many solutions to an issue. Some of these solutions may be more effective than others. After ideating many ideas, you typically choose a single idea to proceed with. Ideating is usually a non-linear thought process, meaning your solutions don't necessarily follow a logical pathway. This is usually an essential thought characteristic of innovation and creativity.

Related: How to Become a Creative Problem Solver: A Definitive Guide

5 steps of design thinking and its meaning

You can technically ideate in any situation, and it's not exclusive to any singular process, but it's often a primary stage in design thinking. Design thinking is a human-centric problem-solving process. It focuses on identifying and satisfying human needs. This is usually through developing innovative products that solve problems affecting humans.

Below, you can explore the five typical steps involved in design thinking:

  1. Empathise: Design thinking usually focuses on a particular demographic, so the first step is to empathise with them. This usually means interviewing a particular demographic to explore the problems they experience.

  2. Define: Once you identify their experiences, you can define the primary problem they encounter. To do this, you can analyse the experiences of the demographic and deduce the problem which affects them the most.

  3. Ideate: The third phase of design thinking involves ideating. You consider the defined problem and generate an abundance of ideas that may serve as potential solutions.

  4. Prototype: After choosing a solution developed through ideating, you can design a prototype of that solution. This isn't the final product, but it resembles a product seeking to solve the problem defined in step two.

  5. Test: The final stage of design thinking is the test stage, where you experiment with the prototype product to determine its effectiveness in solving the problem. The test phase usually includes many procedures that may vary depending on the product and its goals.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Benefits of ideating

Below, you can explore a list of typical benefits of ideating:

Applies creative solutions to any industry

A major benefit is that ideating isn't exclusive to any industry or topic. You can utilise ideating techniques regardless of the problem you're trying to solve. You can ideate individually or in a team environment. While it's an incredibly versatile problem-solving technique, it may still have limitations, depending on the problem. For example, ideating is rarely a time-efficient process. For issues that require an immediate solution, convergent thinking is likely more useful, as it considers established facts and logic to formulate a conclusion. Ideating, though, is usually more effective for problems requiring an innovative approach.

Related: What Is Logical Thinking and Why Is It an Important Skill?

Improves collaboration

Teamwork and collaboration are usually prominent characteristics in every innovative team and company. Ideating in a team environment typically improves collaboration because it encourages individuals to share their opinions and thoughts on a topic. For example, a project team that doesn't involve an ideating process may rely on a single individual to make directive decisions. The individual may choose a solution and delegate individuals to tasks. If there was an ideating process, every project member may discuss the project's direction and contribute valuable input, increasing team collaboration.

Related: Top 10 Tips on How to Work Collaboratively In the Workplace

Increases job enjoyment

A relatively subjective benefit is that many individuals often have a fun experience ideating with colleagues. Engaging in creative practice can be a welcoming break from monotonous responsibilities. Ideating is usually an incredibly open discussion where no one considers ideas bad ideas. Ideating focuses on quantity rather than quality when considering ideas. While it can be a fun experience, it's also important to remain focused, as non-linear brainstorms have the potential to divert to an unrelated topic.

Related: How to Show Creativity at Work (With Tips and Skills)

Fosters creativity

An important benefit of ideating is that it fosters creativity, which often leads to innovation. The purpose of ideating is to gather as many creative solutions to a problem as possible. The process encourages individuals to think creatively. Creativity in a workplace provides an abundance of benefits, from improving job satisfaction to fostering healthy work environments. When individuals have the opportunity to express themselves through creative outlets, it usually improves their job satisfaction. Businesses can experience an increase in employee empowerment and employee engagement, leading to healthy employee relations and excellent problem-solving capabilities.

Related: Creative Thinking: How to Start Thinking Creatively

7 tips to help you ideate

Here, you can consider seven tips to help you ideate effectively:

1. Ideate in a group

While ideating by yourself is appropriate in many situations, it's usually more effective to collaborate with colleagues. By ideating collectively, you gain access to other people's thought processes, which may be unique and provide innovative opinions. The more ideas you generate, the more creative and innovative the solutions become. For this reason, engaging with your colleagues and considering their ideas is usually an excellent idea.

Related: 14 Reasons Why Teamwork Is Important In the Workplace

2. Keep referring to the problem

Because ideating is a highly creative process, the brainstorming session might diverge off target. To keep yourself and the group focused on the session's purpose, it's usually beneficial to remember the problem you're trying to solve. This can help you maintain the accuracy and relevancy of the solutions. Depending on your method of ideating, you may use visualisation techniques to help you remember the problem in focus.

3. Use visualisation techniques

Visualising the thought process is usually an excellent technique to ensure you remain on the topic during an ideating session. There are many visualisation methods you can utilise, such as mind maps, fishbone diagrams, flowcharts, starbursts and affinity diagrams. Many individuals and groups utilise mind maps, as they're a common visualisation technique when brainstorming. Mind maps allow a free flow of information, unrestricted by categories or various focus points. Other diagrams, such as the affinity diagram, might be more restricting, but they typically organise the solutions from the brainstorming session more effectively than other visualisations.

Related: What Is a Mind Map? (Plus the Benefits of Using One)

4. Consider both bad and good ideas

Ideating considers all ideas, regardless of if they're right or wrong. Provided an idea is relative to solving the problem, it doesn't matter if it's right or wrong. Brainstorming helpful solutions is usually better than brainstorming the wrong solutions, but wrong solutions can still serve a purpose. They can remind you and the group of infeasible approaches. In some ideating processes, a group might conduct a bad idea brainstorm, where individuals purposely provide ideas that are almost certain to fail. Identifying these wrong approaches can often outline the correct approaches and foster a discussion that encourages contribution.

Related: What Is Divergent Thinking? (And How to Develop This Skill)

5. Challenge established assumptions

A method of encouraging and fostering creative thoughts is to challenge established assumptions. These assumptions refer to ideas that you and the group accept as true. By challenging the assumptions, you can approach a problem with unique methods. For example, you might assume the target demographics of a product. You base this assumption on statistics and logic, so the assumption is likely correct. By challenging this assumption, you question how it might be wrong. This can provide you with an alternative approach. Even if this approach is wrong, it can help you think creatively and consider every possibility.

Related: Inductive Reasoning (Definition and How to Use It)

6. Use technology

Ideating can require extensive organisation and thorough analysis of the solutions after the brainstorming session. Conducting these ideas through physical visualisations is usually more engaging for a team, but it can create more work. For example, if you write 100 solutions on a whiteboard, you may want to go on and document those 100 solutions and organise them electronically. This is essentially double-handling, meaning you're doing the same process twice. If you conduct the ideating session using specialised software, the software might automate an abundance of tasks, such as organising, grouping, linking and visualising relationships. Every team member can also access these visualisations on-demand.

7. Take a break

It might seem like the longer you think about a topic, the more creative ideas you might generate, but this isn't necessarily true. You might discover that after a period of brainstorming, you can't think of any more solutions. If you take a break, even if it's only a few minutes, you might think of more creative solutions to the problem.

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