broken light bulb
“Light bulb” moments rarely happen in real life. PHOTO: Jonny Lindner

People often expect their ideation sessions to lead to a “light bulb” moment — the sudden illumination of a single, perfect idea that will solve a complicated problem.

But that is rarely the case, and people tend to get in their own way by not focusing their sessions in a way that fuels — rather than restricts — creativity. Here are five simple tips for getting the most out of individual or team ideation sessions:

1. Design Like You Give A Damn

You’re striving to rethink the future, not recreate the past. Focusing your efforts on creating a tool for change, rather than just beautification, will help generate new ideas that have the potential to lead to organizational disruption. Some ideas may even be big enough to spark change at a societal level!

To clear the way for disruptive ideation, prepare to ask the tough questions — like why — and get your hands dirty! Let your thinking challenge the ordinary, not sugarcoat it.

2. Don’t Shy Away from Unusual Connections

Not every idea forms as a sudden epiphany. More often than not, the best ideas appear when you combine two or more ordinary ideas, and force new perspectives.

That’s why the ability to make connections is so important for ideation. You can train your mind to make such connections faster through exercises such as free association, forced comparison and cross-fertilization, and activities that involve teamwork and collaboration.

Focus on quantity before converging. You’ll be surprised by how often unexpected  — or even unusual  — connections can inspire powerful ideas.

3. Envision a Human-Shaped World

The best products, services, systems and spaces are those that are designed to help real people live healthier, smarter, enjoyable and meaningful lives.

It’s possible to create a “human-shaped” world where everything is designed to meet real human needs, but getting there requires innovators to answer complex problems with simple, focused solutions.

When ideating, it’s easy to over-complicate. You have to constantly remember that, when it comes to generating real impact for real people, simplicity is essential. 

4. Explore Novelty

The future is here. Technologies that once dominated Sci-Fi movies and daydreams  — such as VR and AI  — are fast becoming mainstream norms.

That’s why it’s so important not to dismiss new ideas that may seem unrealistic in the moment. Think big, and use today’s emerging technology to forge new connections that will lead to tomorrow’s blockbuster ideas. Far-fetched is not necessarily far off.

5. Anticipate  — and Embrace  — Mistakes

When ideating, it’s rare to hit the nail on the head on the first try. Making a few mistakes  — or just being plain wrong  — is not only inevitable, but also essential to arriving at the best solution. Don’t be discouraged by mistakes. When we equate mistakes with failure, we often miss the lessons that guide us to success.

Expect failure. Expect that you will make mistakes, and continue to experiment and remember that being wrong is a natural step in the ideation process. Radical ideas need to be wrong, in order to be right. Otherwise, they’re not radical  — they’re just incremental.

Moving the Needle

There is no perfect formula for ideation.

Everyone thinks in different and creative ways, which is why teamwork and collaboration play a vital role in the brainstorming process.

However, it is possible to focus your personal  — as well as team  — ideation sessions to help achieve the best result. By doing so, you can strive to design a world that places real human needs at the center, helping to eliminate problems and create simple, meaningful solutions.