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9 Ideation Boosters to Increase your Chance of a Breakthrough

Regardless of whether or not you're a country fan, I bet you know who Dolly Parton is. That's in part because she has written hit after hit (25 No.1's to be exact) over the past 40 years.

But how does she do it? How does she write songs that she knows will be a hit?

Well, she doesn't really.

Her secret weapon is that she writes at least one song a day (sometimes 4 or 5!). If you do the math, that means she's written well over 14,000 songs... making those 25 No. 1's seem MUCH more probable.

Songs are a lot like ideas and your odds of uncovering a breakthrough innovation increase when you arm yourself with the freedom and discipline to explore a magnitude of ideas.

This is why we believe so strongly in the power of ideation. Through ideation, we generate and then evaluate a vast array of ideas through the lens of your strategy in order to uncover more and better innovation opportunities.

Ok, so you're on board with the activity of ideation, but how can you make your ideation fruitful?

Here are 9 of our tried-and-true ideation boosters:


They come from observation and understanding. Well-intentioned ideation sessions crumble when they're built on a foundation of assumptions and hunches.

Before you begin any ideation session, gain a deep understanding of your target user and their world.

2. define & display the problem

Ideas are potential solutions to a problem.

A trap that many people (creatives included!) fall into is generating a bunch of ideas out of sheer excitement. This makes coming up with good ideas slow, hard, and inefficient.

Instead, before anybody picks up a Sharpie or sticky note, define what product problem you are setting out to solve for your target user.

Once you've got it figured out, write your problem statement BIG and display it predominantly above your ideation board for everyone to see. This will serve as a constant reminder to generate ideas in response to the problem you're setting out to solve.

Problem first, idea second.

3. collaborate

The saying "two heads are better than one" is especially true for ideation because with more heads come more perspectives.

Want to put blinders on your innovation? Approach your ideation from just one perspective.

4. think fast

There's a reason that sticky notes and Sharpies have become symbols of ideation; they make brainstorming and sharing ideas approachable and quick for a group.

One trick we use to get ideas out even easier and faster (faster equals more ideas) is word lists.

We're pro sketchers and yet we can still use words to capture an idea much faster than we can with a sketch. For that reason, we love documenting our initial flood of ideas by describing each idea in a few words.

A word list is a great tool for empowering a team that includes non-creatives as well. Only some of us have sketching confidence. Almost all of us are comfortable with words.

5. adopt a "what if" mindset

The first portion of an ideation session is to generate a wide variety of ideas.

This is done by freely sharing ideas (even the seemingly bad ones) and then building off ideas to create even more. This requires an optimistic, creative, "what if" mindset.

Instead of trying to determine if your idea is a "good" idea before you spit it out, just add "What if" to the front of it.

It’s OK and encouraged to propose wild ideas at this stage in the design process.

6. push past the obvious

You're going to have an exciting spurt of initial ideas that beg to be shared. Make sure to get those up on the board, but then don't stop there.

Instead, set a lofty number of ideas that you need to generate and keep going until you reach it. This will help you push past the obvious.

Since your ideas will build and evolve as you collaborate with multiple perspectives, it's typically after the initial spurt of ideas that you enter into the realm of novel ideas.

7. embrace the power of evaluation

Think of evaluation as a filter.

Now that you have a giant pile of ideas (potential solutions to your problem) you're going to categorize and analyze the ideas to see which ones best satisfy the problem, objectives, and criteria you defined in your design brief.

Don't undervalue this process. Imagine there are 3 gems buried in your pile of 50+ ideas. This step has the potential to clear away all of the junk to let those 3 gems shine.

8. expand

Done right, ideation will highlight even MORE ideas and avenues that you could explore.

So, once you've evaluated your ideas and down-selected to only the strongest, give yourself the opportunity to expand back out with another round of ideation. This time starting from a tighter focus and iterating on your ideas that show potential.

Here's a fun acronym to help you remember the flow of ideation:

G.E.E.E. (generate. evaluate. expand. evaluate.)


Generating ideas and evaluating ideas requires two completely different mindsets (one creative, and one analytical) so make sure to separate the two to get the most out of each.

Plan for a mental reset in between each phase of your ideation. A night's rest, a walk outside, or a workout are all great ways to give yourself fresh eyes.

Put these techniques into practice and you'll greatly boost not only the number of your ideas but also the quality.


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