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“Everything begins with an idea.”
Earl Nightingale, a Famous American Radio Show Host, and Author in the 1950s
Earl Nightingale is regarded as the “Dean of Personal Development”. He was a popular American personality back in the 1950s hosting multiple wildly successful radio shows and authoring books.
Source- The Brian Buffini Show
He mostly dealt with subjects of human character development, personality development, motivation, and meaningful existence. He was the epitome of the effectiveness of his ideas, as he became hugely successful by the early age of 35. The above quote is one of his most famous quotes, and it is still widely used especially in literature dealing with creativity and idea generation.
In this article, I want to lead you with this question:
“If everything begins with an idea, where does it come from?”
In other words, how are ideas generated?
In this article, we will start with developing a basic understanding of what idea generation is, and will mainly focus on the five laws of an idea generation process, as the title suggests.
Let’s dive straight in.
In today's fast-paced world, one could say that ideas are abundant. Powered with so much digital data it is perhaps easier than ever to come up with new ideas to solve complex problems of the world.
If you have read or watched anything on the themes of innovation, creativity, and design lately, chances are you have probably come across the term “Idea generation.” What it means, how to do it, and the potential pitfalls of this process are all hot topics of discussion in business circles.
Getting into the nitty-gritty of the idea generation process is a topic for another time, but here’s an excellent 3 min Ted Talk about idea generation.
The focus of this article is on understanding the five key laws of the idea generation process. Hence, let’s get a head start with a simple definition of idea generation and some basics of the idea generation process to set some context for you.
“Idea generation is the process of generating and selecting ideas to solve discrete problems. However, within the context of new product development, the goal of idea generation is to solve customer problems.”
(Source: The AIM Institute)
“Idea generation is the creative process of generating new methods to solve problems and improve the product’s conditions or the company itself. It is undoubtedly based on factors like idea development, group discussions, choosing the best alternative, and finally, implementing the idea in real-world scenarios. The idea doesn’t need to be practical, and it can also be a mere thought.”
(Source: Marketing 91)
“An idea is a thought, suggestion, or a mental image about a possible outcome or course of action that can be used to help achieve a particular goal. Ideas can be tangible or intangible.
Tangible ideas are those that are well-formed and that can be clearly described, expressed, or put into action. Intangible ideas are the opposite; they are not easily defined or clear in the person's mind.
Idea generation is a creative process that is used to form new ideas or concepts and to help convert intangible ideas into tangible ones. This process is also referred to as ideation. Idea generation involves coming up with many ideas in a group setting, finding ways to use these ideas, and then transferring the ideas to real-world instances.”
Let’s be honest, generating new ideas can be chaotic at first. But once you get a hang of it, it feels effortless. Right? Maybe, or maybe not.
Working in brainstorming sessions with coworkers to come up with new ideas can be a difficult process. After all, everyone brings different experiences, knowledge, and perspective to the table when working on creative problem-solving.
The answer to the above question is to put some method to the madness of idea generation. That’s precisely what well-defined processes do. The answer to reducing or removing chaos and uncertainty from the creative ideation is the idea generation process.
Idea generation should not be a one-and-done sort of activity. It should be treated as an ongoing practice with clear objectives and strict guidelines for success. It should follow a well-defined and agreed-upon process that’s clearly understood by every stakeholder.
For that purpose, idea generation also should be an iterative process.
We can say that idea generation is a formal and repeatable process to create ideas.
The idea generation process is adopted to generate ideas for addressing a specific problem in business. That’s why the idea generation process is also unique to each organization, team, or even for a specific problem.
Some various approaches and techniques can be tweaked to build your idea generation process. There are no set rules and there are no wrong answers.
Let’s understand this with a simple example of how different teams within a single organization will need to develop different idea generation processes to achieve specific goals relevant to their work.
A product team will need to generate ideas for new products or new features or new pricing models for existing products. Their marketing team needs to generate ideas for achieving the right brand positioning and messaging for each launch campaign. Their creative team needs to generate creative ideas and design approaches for specific marketing campaigns. The copywriting team needs to generate ideas for a compelling copy to make that marketing campaign work. And so it goes. You get the drift.
Thomas Alva Edison is famously believed to have developed an idea generation process for coming up with new ideas. His idea generation process is still applied widely.
Edison’s idea generation process included the following steps in the exact order:
There are many methods and techniques that professionals use to develop their reliable idea generation process. Some of the popular ones include idea challenges like hackathons, SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse) by Bob Eberle, analogy thinking, reverse thinking, role-playing, the 5W+H method (Who, What, Where, Why, When and How), social listing, mind mapping, visualization and good old collaborative brainstorming in a group.
By now, we’ve seen that the Idea generation is an important skill for anyone working in a creative role to have. The idea generation process is also important for creative teams, creative agencies, and marketing teams to roll out new campaigns.
The idea generation process helps you think out of the box, look for new solutions to problems, and come up with fresh ways of doing things.
To produce the best results however you need to know some important fundamentals about Idea generation before getting started.
Let’s take a look at 5 laws that should govern your idea generation process and what they mean for anyone hoping to get their creative juices flowing as often as possible.
While it’s important to generate as many ideas as you can during an idea generation process, it’s equally important to choose and work with only the most relevant ones.
The first step in any idea generation process should be taking a step back and asking: what is the biggest problem you face right now? Depending on the context, it could be a problem in your work, personal life, or both. Then, look at what is the corresponding problem for your colleagues, your friends, and your ideal customers?
This will give your ideas the relevancy that they will require to be valid and to solve the problem.
Now, the second step would be to apply the law of urgency. That is, choose an idea that is related to a problem that is highly urgent to your audience.
You need to apply this principle as early as possible in your brainstorming process to be working in the right direction.
The law of novelty in the idea generation process says it’s important to choose an idea that is related to a problem that is not yet well-known, or that gives a new and better solution to an already existing problem.
This means that you want to generate ideas that are related to problems that your society or industry hasn’t yet widely recognized as important, or come up with a disruption in an existing situation.
So, why is this novelty factor important in the idea generation process?
Because this will help you develop clutter-breaking solutions and stand apart from the competition.
The law of triggers suggests that you should choose an idea related to a problem that has been associated with a specific trigger.
Triggers are events or situations that activate a certain problem. They are usually outside the person who faces the problem, but they are still affected by it. For example, let’s say you work in a company that helps people find jobs. However, your growth team observes that many people who use your services aren’t getting shortlisted because they have a specific skill or a trait in their resume that prospective employers are using as a negative trigger.
Now, you should develop an idea generation process that resolves this issue. Once you’re through and have come up with a viable solution, it would be a super niche. Many people would want to use your services, especially the ones who are affected by this specific problem because you have a unique solution to a unique problem.
Using the law of triggers in the idea generation process helps spot yet unidentified niches and come up with solutions that will sell themselves.
The law of constraints advises that you should choose an idea related to a problem that is constrained by a certain condition. Following this constraint, as a rule, will drive the solution to a problem.
This constraint can be related to the goal of your product or service, or to a certain type of audience who can use your product. This can also be referred to as the law of exclusivity.
This is widely used to create scarcity, exclusion, and aspiration in luxury products and services.
Another industry that widely uses this is human resources and talent search when specific constraints are used to exclude and eliminate candidates in the initial stages before moving to the selection process.
This is also a useful principle for product teams while finalizing the necessary features in a release.
The law of contrast refers to the idea that you should choose an idea related to a problem that is contrasted by a condition. Think of contrast as the opposite of relevancy. Well, sort of.
Simply put, the law of contrast follows the reverse thinking techniques of the idea generation process. You come up with seemingly counterintuitive or contradictory ideas to solve a problem. And by doing that you might be unable to unlock unprecedented opportunities.
Law of contrast can be a breeding ground for unconventional and unique ideas.
This can be used to break the rut of patterns, provide an opportunity to look at a problem from different angles, and ignite creative sparks in your team.
When trying to solve a problem, it's important to generate as many possible solutions as possible in the beginning. However, if you follow the laws described in this article, you will be able to do so in a systematic, repeatable, and scalable way. And, of course, in the end, you need to be selective and discard the ideas that don’t work.
For marketing and creative teams, one of the effective and reliable ways to do this is to use an AI-powered tool like AdCreative.ai. Its highly trained AI can generate hundreds of optimized and relevant creative ideas in minutes with some basic inputs. It also helps your team to collaborate to identify the best creative ideas for marketing and advertising campaigns, implement them at a very fast pace and iterate quickly for better results. It is a must-have tool in your marketing team’s idea generation process.
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VP Digital Marketing
Founder & CEO at Rapid Alpha