Written by Laura Jonson.

The word Ideation was first used in the 1820s. These days it represents a creative model that you may follow or build yourself from scratch. At the time it was a buzzword, but as with most buzzwords, it was eventually used by scholars and so entered the English lexicon. “Ideation; it would be a very useful word; and there is no objection to it, except the pedantic habit of decrying a new term.” That was a quote from the book “Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind,” by James Mill in 1829. Today, Merriam Webster describes Ideation as “The capacity for or the act of forming or entertaining ideas.

What Is Ideation?

Ideation is the process that takes place after your market research and analysis. Some people think that all you need is an idea, but that is rarely the case. The bestselling products are often created “after” market research. Rarely do we see a successfully selling product that is created first and researched second. Coming up with ideas first will bias your research as you seek out the results and data you want instead of letting the user tell you what they want.

Who Should Come Up With The Ideas?

In theory, every person involved in the process should have a hand in the ideation process because they are all parts of a greater whole. Such ideas may be tangible in Starfleet, but the real world isn’t that simple. Later in the article, you will see how different business departments may add to and influence the Ideation process. A tentative answer may be that each project is different and so the people that come up with the ideas should be different.

For example, Ricky Gervais wrote “The Office,” which is a UK TV show that was copied by the Americans. During production, he was hounded by TV executives to change the show to make it more TV friendly with things such as catchphrases and pop-culture references. Ricky refused, and as a result, he created an award winning show. It was just him and his friend Steven Merchant that were able to come up with ideas and nobody else, and it worked for their project.

However, such a structure wouldn’t work when building a Japanese car. Within that project, there are teams of people dedicated to the improving and advancement of each car element. The person coming up with ideas on how to improve the lifespan of the axel has no input on how to make the ABS work more efficiently.

Should Just One Person Come Up With All The Ideas?

A camel is a horse designed by committee. That is a common phrase describing what happens when lots of people get their hands on the product and make changes. It is true that a creative idea may be watered down when more people are involved, but there are few examples of people successfully working alone. People mention Steve Jobs, but he had legions of people working for him, giving him ideas, refining his ideas, and scrapping what didn’t work. People mention Edison, but even he took on partners and had workshops full of staff coming up with ideas and helping him.

Even the team that created South Park, the TV show started with two people. That may not sound as impressive as Jobs and Edison, but they started by animating bits of paper and have now created a globally recognized brand with 266 episodes and counting. They were also the first US TV show to show images of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, including having him on the DVDs too, without any negative consequences (by today’s standards).

As mentioned, each project is different, so there is no umbrella answer on this issue, but there is nothing stopping you from trying things that have worked for other companies. Here are a few examples:

A group with a leader

One person takes ideas from the people in the meeting and decides the direction. This is one of the most common ideation processes in the western world.

A group that allows the leader to veto

This is similar to how the US president works. Other people are allowed to make decisions, but the leader is able to stop changes. Allowing groups to operate independently may allow for this type of ideation.

A single leaders with different groups

One leader visits with different groups or people to get ideas. That way one group or person is not selling his or her ideas and forsaking the generation of new ideas. People tend to stop thinking of solutions when they have settled on an idea they think will work.

An idea-bouncing dynamic

Game developers tend to have a storyboard and directives, but are then given the chance to bounce ideas off of each other on how to program/develop the game. Sadly, this sometimes leads to massive delays. It is worth considering if you are able to streamline your collaboration process with 100% transparency so each member can see what the other is doing (and/or their progress).

A single person creates ideas

It is a romantic idea, but with the exception of artistic pieces, a single idea generator rarely works. Creative work may work better with fewer people, but a single person coming up with all the ideas is a little foolhardy.

Understanding The Consumer

You are trying to sell to the consumer, so your user experience and your product in total should pander to them and serve their needs, and even though you need to do market research with them, they “shouldn’t” be the ones coming up with the ideas. Experience will teach you that if you ask people what they like, they will tell you what they have (because they like it), because they do not know what they want. Remember that mobile phones were invented in 1973, but people didn’t really start buying them on mass until the mid 90s. Take your market research from your users/consumers, and consider their ideas, but they shouldn’t play an active role in ideation.

Whom Should Be Part Of The Ideation Process?

Ideally, you need thinkers and doers from all departments, even the janitorial staff. One or two people from each is fine. The process should be instigated by the marketing figurehead and finished by the manager. The only team/department that should be consulted throughout the “entire” ideation process is the legal team (if you have one). This is especially true if you are working in an industry where litigation is a big threat.

Marketing figurehead

They should start the process because they are closest to the research. They have ideas around what people want and what the team thinks they may need or respond to.

Engineering

The engineering team members are the ones that say if the ideas are doable. For example, marketing may have discovered that people want websites with user experiences based on telepath.

Production

The developers and/or engineering also need to consider the timeline. Many modern software products are so difficult and time consuming to create that the demand has been filled by the time the software is complete.

Accounting

They are not simply present to hold back the team and reel in their spending, they may also come up with cost effective ideas on how the production process may take place. Ideas are fine but useless if a company cannot afford to do them.

Management

Can it be done, is it in line with the brand principles, and is there a better way to move it in line with the brand principles? A team may have fantastic ideas about a website’s user experience, and in principle, it may be ground breaking, but if it alienates the core consumer then the manager must change it or veto it.

The Planning Team Member

Should not take part. Their role is fulfilled by the manager up until the point the ideas have been finalized. The planning phase has nothing to do with the ideation process. Plans are made after the ideas have taken shape and all parties are in agreement/pacified.

The Janitorial Staff

This is no joke; you need one or two outsiders from the group with no vested interest in the unity of the group. You need an agitator that doesn’t undermine the group, but that is not swayed by its dynamic or the manager. Take some time and research into the “Bay Of Pigs” fiasco. It seemed like a good idea to the President Kennedy because he was surrounded by “Yes” men.

Just Remember That Ideation Is A Process

If ideation is a process, then a structure is desirable. Brainstorming and freethinking is a tool, it is not a process. In addition, both are severely flawed. Brainstorming alone is often a narrow idea-creation tool, and experience will tell you that brainstorming in a group is only productive for around ten minutes. Freethinking is often marred with bias and is often a way of coming up with ideas you should avoid.

The Ideation team creates, destroys and amends ideas by function as a team with the same agenda but different priorities. The project will determine what sort of a team is required and the size of the team. A structure should be created based on trial and error testing. Once an ideation structure and process is in place, all you need to do is maintain it in order to exploit it as fully as possible.