Ideation in Design Thinking

Too often we commit the mistake of sticking to the idea that originally came to our minds when we first thought of the problem space. In fact, we don’t just think about the problem; most of the ideas are for a specific solution without regard to whether the solution is feasible in the context of the user. What ends up happening is that we polish our idea to a point where it takes the shape of a shiny object ready to be used by the user. However, when the user is first shown the solution, the reality hits us that for reasons unbeknownst to us, the user does not find the solution useful and is not enthused by it. The solution ends up being a shiny ornamental object on the shelf of our metaphoric living space. To avoid falling into this trap, a methodical and iterative approach needs to be adopted which starts small, gets the user’s feedback on all aspects and adapts to the user’s needs. The number of iterations could be in the hundreds. Before you continue the iterations, it is very important to ensure that you are not boxing your solution into a narrow direction. It may be helpful to think of your first idea, which you think is game-changing or world-altering or earth-shattering, as a narrow alley in a small town. What you need to do is to step back and stand up on the edge of a hill to have a full view of the landscape of ideas across the entire landscape of ideas. And then you can combine the various ideas into a solution concept that might
be worth pursuing.

To do just that, have the team do the following before generating ideas:
◾ Review the design challenge/problem statement. This is about the target the user is looking to hit. (What is the job the user needs to finish?
What is the goal the user is looking to accomplish? What is the vision the user is aspiring to realize?) See the value proposition section in stage 3 for details.
◾ Persona
◾ Current journey
◾ User’s perspectives (Figure below).

Ideas "User’s perspectives"
Ideas "User’s perspectives"

Here is an example of a real-life ideation session:

Ideas Example
Ideas Example

1. Guidance

1.1 Session Lead

Create a large wall area to collect all ideas and review the following basic brainstorming rules:
1. Quantity over quality. During ideation, one must never think of how sophisticated or valuable the ideas are. The goal of ideation is to generate as many ideas as possible. Quantity matters more than the quality of the ideas during brainstorming.
2. Defer judgment. As mentioned earlier, we tend to judge not just others but our own ideas. We must not be judging any ideas during brainstorming.
3. Urge wild ideas. Another important aspect of brainstorming is that we must not just be content with commonplace ideas which comply with the norms of society, culture or technology. Instead, we must explore ideas which are outside the norms and may even seem somewhat wacky and nonconformist. Discussions with someone of a totally different context than your own would be helpful in bringing forth such ideas. For example, if your team comprises professionals from engineering, sciences or business, talk to people in arts, music, entertainment or sports. You’ll be surprised to see how differently these folks think and how unique a perspective they bring to solving your problem.
4. Focus on the problem. It’s good to think really in different domains, but to ensure you are not distracted, it is important to stick to the problem you are focused on solving.
5. Build on others’ ideas. Finally, do not just confine yourself to your own ideas. As you review the ideas from other team members, feel free to build on those ideas and connect different ideas together to come up with novel solution concepts. Remember that Apple neither invented the Graphical User Interface nor the mouse, which are so commonplace now. They built on the idea of the graphical user interface and the mouse from Xerox.

Once the team is briefed on these rules, start the following self-brainstorming sessions.

5-minute Self-brainstorm:
Each member of the team would already have many ideas to solve the problem for the user. Ask everyone to write all the ideas on sticky notes and place them on the whiteboard.
Ask them to have a quick look at other ideas and then be ready for the next round of ideation.

3-minute Self-brainstorm:
Give the following prompts to instil ideas from the team members. Have at least one round of three-minute self-brainstorming on these prompts.
Prompts around Value proposition.
◾ How might the user hit the target in a better way?
◾ How might the user hit the target in a faster way?
◾ How might the user hit the target in a cheaper way?
◾ How might the user hit the target in an easier way?
These prompts are likely to generate some usual and commonplace ideas.
The following prompts will help you generate out-of-the-box and unusual ideas.

External Prompts.
◾ Think of your favorite brand; how would that brand solve this problem? For example, how would Apple or Google or Amazon solve this problem?
◾ Think of another industry; how would that industry leader solve this problem? For example, if your problem is in the consumer products space, prompt the team to think about the hotel industry, the airline industry, the banking industry or another industry.
◾ Think of your biggest competitor, how would they solve it?

Prompts around Constraints.
Constraints are a great way to push you to think of novel ideas. Using constraints helps in generating unique ideas that no one could have deemed possible before. Introduce some constraints to see how the ideas evolve.
Some examples of constraints are as follows:
◾ What if we only had a quarter of the funds that we currently have – how would we solve the problem?
◾ What if one of the team members left due to a family emergency – how would we solve the problem?
◾ What if we didn’t have access to X – how would we solve the problem?
(X could be any important asset or capability you are relying upon).
◾ You may also think about the assumptions you have made. Focusing on the critical and major assumptions, consider how you would solve the problem if those assumptions were proven wrong. Review the assumptions section in stage 4.

Contrarian Prompts.
Most of the novel business models are a result of teams thinking totally opposite to the conventional wisdom. For example, the conventional wisdom dictates that one should never let strangers come into one’s house, let alone
spend the night inside. However, AirBNB challenges that exact assumption and built a business exploiting the contrarian approach of generating value from renting a portion of a house to strangers. Another famous example is
around hitchhiking. The common cultural narrative is filled with horrific stories, including torture, kidnap and murder when someone hitchhiked with strangers. Parents continue to remind their young and older children to refrain from riding with strangers and avoid taking rides from strangers.

However, Uber and Lyft pioneered the highly successful ride-sharing business model and exploited the complete contrarian view of the conventional wisdom.
◾ Push your team to think about all the conventional wisdom related to the problem space that you are operating under. And now imagine you flipped the conventional wisdom upside down; how would you now solve the problem?
Team Brainstorm
Now that you have all the ideas on the whiteboard, have the team review them. You’ll see that several themes are emerging in these ideas. Cluster the ideas according to these themes. You’ll be surprised to see the diversity of the ideas and themes. You can consider these themes as a collection of related ideas. Review the ideas individually and in your team. Discuss the merits and demerits of each idea and each theme.

1.2 Document Assumptions

After the session, the session lead should ask the team to write down all the
assumptions made and record those assumptions in assumptions template in Stage 4.

1.3 Review Prior Steps

Review the prior steps and adjust as needed with the consensus of the team.
Creativity Requires Time:
Creativity isn’t something that you can force in one brainstorming session. One needs to let the ideas percolate into the subconscious in order to have deeper insights as well as “Aha!” moments. It is important that you don’t just consider this one session as the final session. This session should be repeated several times. A good rule of thumb is to have the session repeated every week for a couple of weeks. During these subsequent sessions, the quality of ideas improves, and you also have a chance to think about the existing ideas in further depth as well. In addition, do discuss promising ideas with the users whenever you get a chance, so that you can gain further insights and input on the suitability of the ideas in the users’ context.