What is Ideation?

After going through the Design Thinking phases of understanding and defining the problem, the most fun and freeing phase, ideation, can occur. This phase can also be called the “imagine” phase because it requires letting go of ideas of perfection and ‘the way things have always been done’. This is the time to let out all of the crazy ideas that wouldn’t be worth discussing in a formal context because the goal is to have a large quantity of ideas, not just quality ones. Not everyone finds ideation energizing or easy, but some people actually claim ideation as a strength. If you’re like me and come up with weird ideas all the time with your friends, learn how to use that strength and flex your ideation muscle! Gallup Strengths Finder definition of ideation says, “People especially talented in the ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.”

The goal of brainstorming is to produce a quantity of ideas, not quality.

How to Ideate

Stanford’s Design School espouses several principles to create an effective brainstorming environment, including defer judgement, build on the ideas of others, be visual, and have one conversation at a time. These principles may apply in other contexts too. When discussing original ideas, it’s important to be nonjudgmental with others so you do not stifle their creativity. When psychological safety is established, group members feel safe enough to voice their opinions and ideas, no matter how wacky they seem.

A Cornell School of Management study called “Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams” shows that teams who feel psychologically safe are more likely to admit errors and learn from them together.

They say, “Team members deciding whether to reveal errors they have made are likely to be motivated to speak up if two conditions are satisfied: first, they believe they will not be rejected (team psychological safety) and, second, they believe that the team is capable of using this new information to generate useful results (team efficacy). Team psychological safety and team efficacy are thus complementary shared beliefs, one pertaining to interpersonal threat and the other characterizing the team’s potential to perform.

One common issue in brainstorming is when one person dominates the conversation and everyone rallies around their idea, curtailing the creative energy and sharing of ideas. This phenomenon has been named “anchoring”, in which early ideas “establish the kinds of norms, or cement the idea of what are appropriate examples or potential solutions for the problem.” A new discipline called “Brainstorming” has emerged in recent management programs to combat this. Very simply, it means writing down your ideas individually before going around the room to share each one. It allows space for individual creativity and equal sharing time, because the goal of brainstorming is to produce a quantity of ideas, not quality.



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