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Where Do Our Creative Ideas Come From?

I don't mean from what part of the design process or from what types of ideation exercises.

Where do our ideas REALLY come from? How do we construct them? Can we trace their source?

I believe articulating where ideas come from will allow us to generate more and better ones.

Before we get to the bottom of it, let's first define what a creative idea is.

An idea is a potential solution to a problem.

A creative idea is one that satisfies all constraints, yet solves the problem through a clever loophole not obvious to others.

From my experience, I've found that the source of our creative ideas is a mental cloud of familiar concepts, or a galaxy of stars if you will. Our minds are filled with existing concepts that we've been exposed to and that we reference and combine in order to form new creative solutions (ideas).

The stars in our mental galaxy are concepts that we have seen, experienced, or learned about throughout our life.

We're all familiar with the concept of tying a shoe to keep it tight on your foot. So you have a shoe-tying star in your mental galaxy.

Maybe you've spent many summers camping. You probably have a tent-pitching star, a fire-lighting star, a s'more-making star, and many more stars in that solar system of your galaxy.

A creative idea is formed like a constellation, by linking your stars in a new way to best solve the problem at hand.

With this in mind, let's take a deeper look at where Knack's ideas have come from in an effort to generate more and better ideas.

In our experience, there are three arenas from which you can pull creative ideas:

1. within your own galaxy

Your own galaxy is already filled with a plethora of stars. Throughout your life thus far, you've seen, experienced, and learned about many existing concepts.

To allow these stars to be useful to you in your innovation work, give yourself the space to access and arrange these stars in a way that best solves your problem at hand. We typically achieve this through word lists and doodles.

When generating ideas for Ondago, I had to figure out how we could design a cooler that could easily be transported across any terrain.

The winning idea and the foundation of Ondago was the combination of a cooler and balloon wheels.

From first-hand experience, I was already very familiar with traditional coolers and the difficulty of hauling one.

I became familiar with balloon wheels from being out on a beach where I saw people using beach chairs outfitted with balloon wheels as a beach wheelchair solution.

Both of these "stars" were within my own galaxy and I just needed to link them.

If you want to generate more and better creative ideas, fill your galaxy with more stars. Don't just see more, experience more, and learn more, but also work to be more observant along the way.

2. By Merging your galaxy with someone else's

Your own mind is filled with many stars, but your life has only exposed you to one path of experiences. To discover stars outside your galaxy, you can merge your galaxy with someone else's. Usually, through conversation, observation, and/or research/inspiration our galaxy can benefit greatly from someone else's stars.

The idea for hop came after a weekend trip with my niece and nephew. I observed that to brush their teeth, get up on the bed, and nearly every other task they wanted to tackle, the kids would drag over a suitcase to stand on. When I discussed it with my sister, she explained how they have a little step stool at home that they use frequently, but she was unable to pack it for this trip.

Without kids of my own, I didn't have this star in my galaxy.

I drew a link between two stars (rolling suitcase & stepstool). One from my own galaxy and one acquired from someone else's.

If you want to generate more and better creative ideas, merge galaxies more often. Don't just set yourself up to have more interactions, but more engaged conversations.

3. By Pooling A Group Of galaxies

To take this concept of star sharing to the next level, you can bring together multiple galaxies, usually in the form of a team brainstorm. Not only can you deliberately add people with the perspectives you lack, but you can foster an activity that gets all of these different people collaborating with each other to pool their stars and draw the ultimate constellation.

For lack of a non-confidential project example, I will share one with the details masked.

We were tasked with generating a creative idea for how to redesign a particular consumer electronic device. Rather than rummaging through just my own brain or even our team's brains, we arranged for a wide variety of stakeholders to join us in a brainstorm. Around the table were an engineer, a product manager, two consumers, two designers, and a marketer.

The winning idea ended up being a constellation formed between the product manager's product line knowledge, the consumer's product experiences, the engineer's understanding of new technologies, and so on.

If you want to generate more and better creative ideas, invite different galaxies to the table. Work to truly listen and collaborate with the individuals you bring together. Each of their galaxies hosts stars you're unaware of. Together you can draw constellations you couldn't alone.

Creative ideas are new combinations of preexisting solutions. It's up to us to form the link between these solutions to solve problems creatively.

It is also up to us to set up the conditions that help us generate more and better creative ideas.

To do just that, remember to fill your galaxy with more stars, merge galaxies more often, and invite different galaxies to the table.


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