Ideation Guide

Ferm Fresh, Terre Haute, Vigo County

1. What is Ideation?

Every great business was built on a good idea, right?  WRONG.  Some businesses were developed

When creating the light bulb, Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 

Every successful business began with a good idea, right? Well, not exactly. Some businesses were developed out of failed ideas. In 1968, 3M Laboratories “failed” at creating a very specific strong adhesive. What they created, was a light adhesive that couldn’t hold anything together. Scientists on the project wrote it off as a failure. Other scientists saw this as an opportunity to create something new, something that would be used in offices all over the world for years to come. Post-it Notes. The Post-it Notes sitting on your desk, reminding you to complete a task, were forged from the ashes of a failed project.  

Ideation is about opportunity. Ideation solves problems and creates new products, processes, and systems that can change the world. Ideation happens BEFORE something is created. Ideation is free flowing ideas which bounce off others without judgement. Brainstorming. The goal is not to find the perfect solution to the problem; the goal is to create several potential solutions, with no limit to what can be done. 

In this module, we will utilize the design-thinking approach to ideation and creative problem solving. We will highlight the five main steps: Empathize, Problem Definition, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Keep in mind, this approach is not linear. The insights gained throughout this process can be used to further refine earlier steps. When ideating, it is expected to go through the processes several times. No answer is incorrect.  

2. Empathize With Target Markets

Before we can begin defining the problem that needs solved, we must use empathy to understand those impacted by the problem. In business terms, these would be your stakeholders and potential target markets. It is much easier to understand the problem when you empathize with the target market. This step is not required; however, it is encouraged to produce with a quality solution.  

3. Define the Problem

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” – Einstein 

The problem must be identified before we begin ideation. This may sound simple on the surface, but it can be difficult. The problem definition must be specific to create accurate solutions. An easy way to begin this process is to do a root cause analysis using the “five why’s.” This helps understand the root cause of the issue. 

The five-why system is straightforward: define the problem, then develop five answers to the question, “why?” 

Problem: I got a ticket today 
  • Why? I ran a red light. 
  • Why? I was late for work. 
  • Why? I woke up late. 
  • Why? I didn’t set my alarm the night before. 
  • Why? I stayed up too late. 

It is imperative we ask why at LEAST 5 times for this exercise to work. It may be the case that more why’s are needed. In this case, we keep asking why until no other alternatives or problems arise. 

Problem: I got a ticket today. 
  • Why? I ran a red light. 
  • Why? I was late for work. 
  • Why? I woke up late. 
  • Why? I didn’t set my alarm the night before. 
  • Why? I stayed up too late. 
  • Why? I was playing video games. 
  • Root cause: Video games before bed. 

If the original problem of getting a ticket were the focus, the solution could have focused around avoiding a particular area, slowing down, or trying to raise the speed limit.  The root cause analysis reveals the actual issue is video games before bed. 

There are many other tools to help define the problem, another is called “flipping.” Flipping a problem requires you to focus on the opposite of the original problem. Once you identify the opposite, categorize your solutions into themes. For example, when ideating over neighborhood improvement, an organization may set out to solve how to make the neighborhood a better place. Flipping this problem would mean solving how to make the neighborhood a terrible place. A good example of problem flipping is shown in the ideation session with the Twelve Points Revitalization Initiative and Launch Terre Haute

4. Ideate

The ideation stage is all about solutions.  After defining the problem and understanding the stakeholders, the next step is focused on solving the correct problem for the correct people.  When i

The ideation stage is all about solutions. Once you have defined the problem and have an understanding of the stakeholders, it’s time to focus on solving the correct problem using the correct people. No edits should be made during the ideation process. Team members should think outside the box and use logic later. This process allows ideas to flow freely without judgement. There is no wrong answer. 

Tips for your ideation session: 
  • Have a designated note-taker or record the session 
  • Work in small groups; if a large group is meeting, break them out into smaller groups with members of different backgrounds 
  • Clear your mind before starting; use meditation, or simple breathing exercises to prepare your creative thoughts 
  • Encourage the group to focus on ideas outside of “realistic”; ideas can be scaled back later; this stage is focused on getting solutions 

After initial brainstorming, it is good to review the notes and solutions and place them into working categories. If several solutions have a general theme, group them together and create an umbrella solution. Once themes are identified, shift your focus to integrating these ideas into one solution. 

The group should then review and rank the importance of each aspect of the solution. During prototyping, some elements may need to be changed or removed; this is to keep the group focused.  

5. Prototyping

Prototyping occurs when the solutions to the ideation session become reality. It is important to understand the finished product is not the goal. The group needs to stay focused on the minimum viable product (MVP), which can be shared with stakeholders and later be tested. 

The work does not end here, however. The group should be careful not to discard a particular solution because it is “unrealistic” upon first look. Rather, they should work to keep the original spirit of the solution while scaling it to reality. 

It is expected that after prototyping, the group may need to go back to the problem definition or ideation stage. New information may help uncover new problems or new solutions. 

6. Testing

Testing occurs when the prototype created becomes a reality. In this stage, the team will meet with potential stakeholders and present their solution. This stage should focus on how the solution impacts the target market. Entrepreneurs may also begin evaluating this solution as a business idea.