You've identified a product problem worth solving and dove into generating ideas for solving it. But now you're stuck.
You can't seem to come up with ideas that are any better than what already exists. You've convinced yourself that the good ideas are all taken and have put your pen down.
This is exactly where most people quit.
However, the trick to coming up with valuable, novel ideas is to not give up at this point, but instead to push through it.
But just sitting at your desk and waiting for ideas to come isn't productive, nor comfortable. So instead, we can utilize strategic ideation exercises to inspire and motivate ourselves to generate more and better ideas, especially at those moments when we feel stuck.
Looking back on our ideation processes across our past projects, we've identified 20 ways that we've (and now you) can controllably generate more and better ideas:
1. Have the product in hand
While you're ideating, have the product you're generating solutions for in your hands to see, feel, and explore. This allows the product to answer your subconscious questions and trigger new thoughts.
2. Brain dump into a word list
Words are arguably the fastest and easiest way to illustrate an idea. Use them to your advantage to let you get as many ideas as possible out of your head and onto the page with a word list.
3. Doodle your best ideas so far
Once you've run out of ideas to list, doodle out the best of them (at least 10 or more). Illustrating the ideas in both word and picture form allows you to both hone and expand upon the ideas.
4. Assign yourself a quota
It's tempting to throw in the towel when your initial flood of ideas stalls out. To motivate yourself out of ideator's block, give yourself a quota to hit. Tell yourself that you won't stop until you've filled 3 pages with 20 thumbnails each, or that you'll fill 50 sticky notes with one idea each before you put your Sharpie down.
5. Benchmark existing products
Study and get familiar with what products already exist to solve the problem at hand. These products will be your product's competitors so it's important to understand what they do well and could do better so that you can avoid copying while seizing their gaps. This study will get your gears turning for sure!
6. Benchmark analogous products
There will be other products that solve a similar problem but are outside of your product's category. Searching for and studying these products will inspire fresh ideas as you apply their solution to your product.
7. Identify flaws of competitors
Take a close look at the top dogs. The big competitive products in your space. They seem to be the perfect solution, but challenge yourself to identify where and how they fall short. This will give you insight into potential solutions for delivering even more value than the competitors do.
8. Observe someone using the product
Whether it be in person or through a video recording, find a way to observe your user using the product in its environment. Ideas will pour out of you!
9. Listen to users state the problem
It's one thing to define the product problem yourself. It's another (and much more inspiring) thing to hear your product's users state the problem(s) they're experiencing. Be sure to actively listen to both what they are and are not saying.
10. Brainstorm with others
Two heads are better than one. 5 diverse heads are even better. Leverage the perspectives of others to not only bring new ideas to the table but to also intersect with your own perspective to collaboratively generate ideas that you couldn't come up with on your own.
11. Build off your ideas
Ideas don't need to be mutually exclusive; they can be variants. Try building off of ideas you've come up with thus far by saying "Yes, and..."
12. Prompt yourself with Questions
The deeper you get into ideating, the better you understand the product problem and the more you see nuances in the prompt. Push yourself to ideate into tangents using questions to yourself, such as: "How might we make this product from just one part?"
13. Revisit & review the problem
The longer you ideate, the farther you wander into the idea realm and away from the problem realm. Refamiliarize yourself with the problem to not only keep yourself on track but also reinternalize your mission now that you've gained a deeper understanding.
14. Revisit & review your research
Now that you've become so familiar with the product and many potential solutions, returning to your research can be a gold mine of idea inspiration. You have a better grasp now on what is significant and can more closely study your findings for spurring insights.
15. Passive ideation
Your brain has both a conscious and unconscious mode. Both can generate ideas, but we rarely take advantage of the unconscious mind. Follow this process to utilize your unconscious mind:
Wrap your head around the challenge & actively work on generating and documenting your initial ideas in a place that’s always with you. I like to use the iPhone notes app.
Do something that’ll take your mind off of the project altogether such as going on a road trip, going camping, or taking a long bike ride.
During this getaway, don’t actively ideate, but if/when ideas pop into your head, add them to your list that you've kept handy.
After your break, revisit your list to review and add to the ideas you’ve passively generated.
16. Organize your ideas
Rearranging, grouping, and sorting your ideas gives you a chance to assess what you have, what you might be missing, and draw new parallels.
17. Share your ideas with someone else
You're very close to the project at this point and you're only one brain. Leverage someone else's mind and fresh eyes by reviewing your best ideas with them. See what concerns, ideas, and thoughts your work spurs for them.
18. Plot your ideas on a matrix
Taking stock of what bases your ideas cover (and don't) so far prompts you to fill in the gaps. Plot your ideas on a matrix to see where your current ideas are clustering and where there are holes. Then generate new ideas to fill the holes.
19. Converge, then diverge again
Evaluation can be just as inspiring as generation. Go ahead and narrow your breadth of ideas down to only the best. This process will spur ideas you hadn't yet thought of and/or give you the opportunity to diverge back out again, generating variations of your selected ideas.
20. Call it done, then revisit
Wrap up your deliverables but give yourself an extra day/weekend/week before it's officially due. This extra time will afford you the luxury of space to allow any additional or better ideas to pop into your clear head.
Keep this list handy to have nearby when you're stuck and tempted to quit.
Remember, pushing through ideator's block is precisely what produces novel ideas.
So don't quit.
Instead, pick a new activity from this list and keep your ideation going.
We have a knack for conceptualizing and visually communicating product ideas.
If your innovation team could use our support, come have a look at the services we offer.
They're all aimed at helping you get more and better innovations into your pipeline.