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About this Author
Gwen Smith Ishmael, Sr. Vice President of Insights and Innovation at Decision Analyst in Arlington, TX, has led marketing and new product development activities in the CPG and technology industries since 1986. She also conceived and developed ground-breaking Web-based promotional vehicles, two of which are patent pending. Gwen holds an MBA in Marketing and is a featured speaker on insights and innovation around the world. Her writings have been featured in international text books, most recently in Managing 4 Ps of Marketing FMCG Sector, and Product Innovation: A Strategic Tool for Growth, by ICFAI Publications, 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Founding Author

Renee Hopkins Callahan Renee Hopkins Callahan started IdeaFlow and serves as chief blog-wrangler. She is Director of Innovation Services at Decision Analyst in Arlington, Texas, is a former journalist who worked as an editor and reporter for The Dallas Morning News and the Nashville Tennessean, and was managing editor of D, the Dallas city magazine. She has a master's degree in rhetoric and has also taught college-level English and informal logic.
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

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May 9, 2003

More On Idea Generation Tools and Techniques

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Joyce Wycoff of the Innovation Network did an informal survey of her newsletter readers, asking them to rate idea-generation tools and techniques. In true geek fashion, I’ve taken the survey results and tried an analysis based on the taxonomy in the Compendium of Idea Generation Techniques I wrote about this week.


Here are the results from 61 responses. In the parentheses, the first number is how many people responded that they were familiar with the technique; the second number is the average rating the respondents gave the technique, using the following scale: 1 = highly effective; 2 = moderately effective; 3 = no particular effect; 4 = more of a hindrance. I’ve ordered them in terms of reported effectiveness.

    Creative Problem Solving (31/1.6) - C
    Brainstorming (58/1.7) - I
    Mindmapping (35/1.7) - I
    'Wouldn’t It Be Nice If ...?' (35/1.7) - CR
    Visualization (27/1.7) - E
    Changing Perspective Or Place (27/1.8) - S
    Storytelling (34/1.8) - E
    Metaphorical Thinking (31/2.0) - S
    SCAMPER (22/2.0) - S
    Collage (21/2.1) - S
    6 Thinking Hats (24/2.1) - ASM
    Mindmanager (14/2.1) - I
    Using Random Images To Stimulate Thoughts (27/2.2) - S
    Forced Associations (25/2.2) - S
    Stupid & Ridiculous (19/2.5) - I
    Forced Quotas (19/2.7) - I
    Knowbrainer (8/2.7) - S
    Ideafisher (10/2.8) - I


Many, but not all, of these techniques can all be found in the Compendium of Idea Generation Techniques (I had to guess at a few). When I placed them in that taxonomy, I came up with these results: Of the 18 techniques listed here, two -- Storytelling and Visualization, listed in bold -– represent various aspects of Worldview 3 (the world is a field of energy and consciousness). One, Creative Problem Solving, listed in italics, represents Worldview 2 (the world is an ecosystem) because it is a “macro” process that collects together many micro processes (which are themselves categorized in Worldviews 1 and 3). The power of CPS, as in all Worldview 2 methods, is that very macro process-ness, as well as the fact that they harness the power of a group - “members of a stakeholder system work together to bring something new into being.”


The other 15 idea-generation techniques on the survey list represent various aspects of Worldview 1 (the world is a machine). No surprise there, as even the Compendium authors acknowledge that “the vast majority of idea generation methods in existence are a product of Worldview 1 thinking…if you want to have a brilliant idea, you must produce a large number of ideas and the brilliant one will be in there somewhere.”


Of Worldview 3 (the world is a field of energy and consciousness) the Compendium says: “[these] mostly involve the use of self as the idea generation method. Their purpose is threefold: raising the level of consciousness, enabling the innovator to be fully present, and activating spontaneity and inspiration.”


That letter at the end of each idea-generation technique in the list above indicates the category to which I decided that technique belongs within the Compendium's Worldviews. Although the sample here is really too small to be useful for analytical purposes, and this is not what the survey was intended to do anyway, I did figure up an average for each category in an effort to find out which worldview/categories were most effective.


In the results below, WV indicates the worldview number, then the category is named. Within the parentheses are the number of techniques on the list that belonged to this category and the average score received.

    WV2/Collaborative (1/1.6)
    WV1/Constraint Removal (1/1.7)
    WV3/Experiential (2/1.75)
    WV1/Springboards (7/2.1)
    WV1/Anchoring and Spatial Marking (1/2.1)
    WV1/Inventory Making (6/2.25)


What does this all mean? In some small way I think this is proof of the value of collaborative, macro processes for generating ideas and stimulating creativity and innovation.


What I’d like to do now is to categorize the processes and techniques in the Compendium differently. My as-yet-unwritten taxonomy would group idea-generation methods by which are individual processes and which are social processes; which are analog processes (performed with a pencil and a notebook, or easel pads and markers) and which are digital processes (performed with various kinds of software). Obviously I'd place blogs and social software on the list as digital tools for facilitating collaborative creativity.


I'd want to know how idea generation techniques change when they are performed in a group, as opposed to how they are performed by an individual? Which techniques only work individually and which only work in groups? Which get better results when done in a group, and which get better results when done alone? Which work (or even work better) when transformed from individual to group technique, by using social software?


I realize I've raised more questions here than I've provided answers. All comments welcome!

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