24 Ways to Excel At Idea Generation (Like The Guy Who Invented Facebook)

If you purposely pursued a career in a creative field, it’s likely that your job involves coming up with new ideas on a daily basis.

You may expect brainstorming to be part of your everyday routine if you work at an ad agency, in the entertainment business or in the arts. But other industries may require creativity as well.

Companies are always striving to increase sales and being creative can help businesses to come up with out of the box methods of attracting new customers making creativity a necessary part of their livelihood.

Whatever industry you may be in, the bottom line is, it is likely creativity will come into play at one time or another. And coming up with that prize-winning idea could be the key to moving forward in your company while a lack of creativity…well, let’s not even think about that scenario!

Either way, I think you get the basic idea. Creativity is important no matter how you make a living!  

But coming up with creative ideas on cue can be difficult. Maybe you are suffering from a creative block or maybe you are just not naturally imaginative.

Well, whatever lies at the root of your problem, there are ways to overcome your issues and come up with prize-winning ideas. Read on to find out how to unleash your creativity.

The Ideation Process: How to Generate Ideas

If your company is in the practice of turning to their staff for innovative ideas, you may be familiar with the ideation process. This is an idea generation technique that uses methods like sketching, prototyping, brainstorming, brainwriting and other techniques for creating ideas.

Ideation gives employees a great opportunity to ask stupid questions and come up with silly ideas that may be rejected later or may be used to generate useful material.

But while this process can provide a fun forum for encouraging creativity, it is expected that good ideas will be produced, so it is important that, if you are going to be doing some ideation at your place of business, you come in prepared. Here are some ways to prepare for the ideation process.

Design Thinking Process
Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright license: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0


During this stage, you will watch engage and listen to gain understanding. You will learn about your audience and their physical emotional needs and what is meaningful to them. This will help you gain insight on the person or people you are designing for.


In the define mode, you need to make sense of the information you have gathered. You will discover connections and patterns and put them into easy to view materials which will allow you to construct a problem statement or Point of View. This will allow you to ideate in a more goal-oriented manner.


Now that you are more focused on your goal, you can begin breaking your POV up into smaller, more meaningful questions which serve to answer a larger problem. Think of the needs of your audience and come up with five or ten questions that identify these needs. Then work on coming up with solutions.

During this time, you should not be afraid to explore options that may seem off the beat and path as you may come up with that out of the box idea you were looking for.

Idea Generation Techniques

Understanding the ideation process – part of the creative brief process, and participating in the process itself will be useful in helping you come up with the solutions you are looking for. But this level of understanding might not be enough to help you be productive during these sessions. You also need to be in the right frame of mind.

A creative frame of mind might not come as naturally to some as it does to others, but there are always ways to help you along in the creative process.

Your first step will be to make sure you are familiar with the field, industry, medium, and company you are working in. If you work at an ad agency, this might come on a few levels.

You must be familiar with what is necessary to create an ad, the medium you are working with (commercial, print, etc.), the industry your client is in, your client’s product or service and their target audience. Once you are armed with this knowledge, you will be prepared to proceed.

Working with What You’ve Got

Most new ideas are generated from ones that already exist. Familiarizing yourself with pre-existing thought processes will help to inspire you, but you also have to know how to go beyond these thought processes for optimal idea creation.

1. Start by Challenging Assumptions

Look at what people assume is impossible and think of ways to make these things possible. This will give you a new spin, offering problem-solving solutions to your target audience.

2. Look At Your Problems in a Different Light

Next, look at your problems in a different light so you can explore different angles. Wording the problem differently can help you to do this and may be a useful tool when it comes to idea creativity.

3. Reverse Your Thought Process

Another method you might use is to try reversing your thought processes. Instead of trying to think of how you can solve a problem, try to think about how you can make a problem worse. Continue on this path and turn it around again until you start coming up with solutions.

4. Use Different Media

Different media can also be used to stimulate thought processes. While the verbal reasoning is used most often, clay, music, word association games and paint can also be used to work out problems. These different forms of expression can spark ideas that might not have been coming to you when you were using other forms of communication.

Use Different Media

Go For the Unexpected

We’ve probably all had this happen; an idea comes to us when we least expect it. Kind of like the watched pot of water that never boils, as soon as we walk away from our thoughts, they come rushing back at us in totally unexpected ways.

If you are at an ideation session, it may not be the best time to walk away, but there are ways to seek stimuli from unexpected places. Here are some idea generating tools you can use:

5. Use Random Input

Choose a word from the dictionary and search for connections between the word and the problem you are trying to solve.

6. Mind Mapping

Put a keyword or phrase in the center of a page. Write whatever comes to mind on the same page. See if you can draw a connection between what is written and whether those words can help you find problem-solving solutions.

7. Look at Artwork

Sometimes looking at a picture or painting can give you ideas. Study a work of art to determine how it can relate to your situation.

Look at art

8. Study an Item

Just as a piece of art can be useful in stirring our imaginations, so can just about any item. While studying these items, ask yourself how they can help address a challenge or be used to solve a problem.

Find Different Perspectives

Although we may try to look at our problems in different ways in order to come up with solutions, actively seeking different perspectives can be extremely useful.

9. Get Different Opinions

You can do this by asking others what they think in terms of the problem you are trying to solve. It is likely that you are already working with others who are in the same boat as you, trying to find solutions to the same problems.

For a really fresh point of view, try consulting friends, family or co-workers who are in an unrelated field to find out what they think.

10. Rolestorming

During an ideation session, it may be difficult for you to take a break and consult others on their perspective. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still employ this method to come up with out of the box ideas.

Ask yourself, ‘how would I solve this problem if I were…..?’ You can try to solve the problem from the point of view of a friend, relative or even a celebrity you look up to.

(Image Source: Giphy)

Use Enablers

Enablers are idea generation tools that can help you to keep your mind fresh, so you are in the best state possible to help you create new ideas. Though it may not be possible to engage in certain behaviors while in the workplace, do your best to incorporate them into your creative process, no matter where you may be.

11. Believe in Yourself

Coming in with a positive mental attitude will help you perform better, coming up with ideas your company will love.

12. Fun and Humor

These elements can be helpful, especially in group settings. It will limit stress while making the atmosphere conducive to creativity.

13. Shut Out Distractions

While you might need to take a break from the creative process to keep ideas fresh, you don’t want to be dealing with anything that will take your mind off your assignment completely. Make sure all devices are shut off and work in a clutter-free zone with a closed door if possible.

14. Take Time Out to Relax

Napping, going for a walk, listening to music and playing with your child can all be a great way to take a break from formal idea creativity, allowing you to come back refreshed.

Take Time to Relax
(Image Source: Giphy)

15. Change of Environment

If you are used to creating in an office space atmosphere, a change of environment may be exactly what you need. Try going to a coffee shop or walking around the park. These changes of scenery can be beneficial in team situations as well. Invite your creative co-workers if possible.

16. Come in With the Right Attitude

Ideation will be most successful if you come into the session with the right attitude. Adopting characteristics that hone creativity may come more naturally to some than they do to others but try to work towards these as goals so you can be more open-minded and create a fertile ground for idea creation.

17. Be Adaptive

Be open-minded to new ideas that come in and expand your horizon and ability to see, understand and think outside the box.

18. Make an Effort to Connect

Make an effort to connect ideas you may think of as unrelated. This can work to create new possibilities.

19. Make an Effort to Disrupt

Don’t be afraid to overturn norms and popularly held beliefs to come up with creative solutions.

20. Flip Ideas Around

If faced with a dead end, try flipping the situation over. Changing directions can be a great method for increasing thought flow.

21. Go Way Outside the Box

Completely turn reality on its head. Think of abstract needs and ways to make them concrete to come up with methods for solving practical problems.

22. Be Experimental

Be open to new ideas, explore different possibilities and take risks to come up with original, problem-solving solutions.

23. Recognize Patterns

While exploring new territory, you may find that certain patterns emerge in terms of the way people behave and the values they might have. Use these patterns to recognize common thought processes and create solutions.

24. Be Curious

As stated before, an ideation session is a great time to ask stupid questions. Don’t be afraid to be silly, weird or crazy to come up with a different idea. This will also serve to open up your mind and the minds of others working with you, and lighten up the atmosphere in the best way possible!

Idea Generation

Idea creation can be stressful. Not only are we under pressure to come up with good ideas, we can also be afraid that others might shoot the ideas we have down. Developing a routine for honing your creativity and going into ideation sessions with the right attitude can help to eliminate these fears and make you as productive as possible. Good luck coming up with ideas that hit them out of the ballpark the next time your boss looks to you for solutions!

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