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Simple Guidelines for Generating Ideas

When you have to generate alot of ideas in a brainstorming session, it is good to have a few simple guidelines to structure the sessions.  These guidelines are research-based from the work of Donald J. Treffinger,  Scott G. Isaksen, and K. Brian Stead-dorval.  These scholars built upon the foundational work of Ruth Noller and Alex Osborn (the father of Brainstorming).

As described by Alex Osborn, creative thinking requires you to perform to different types of thinking:

  • Generating thoughts (or ideas)
  • Focusing thoughts (or ideas)

In fact, brainstorming is only one tool to generate your thoughts.  To be an effective problem solver, you need to generate ideas and focus on the generated ideas.  These guidelines will help you to become more effective.

Guidlines for Generating Ideas

From my experience, User Experience Professionals, Usability Analysts, Designers, and Marketers are wonderful at generating ideas.  These basic guidelines will help keep this group of people focused and they will help the other people to generate ideas.  Here are the guidelines for generating ideas:

  1. Strive for Quantity
  2. Defer judgment (both positive and negative)
  3. Piggyback
  4. Freewheel

A brief explanation of these guidelines follows.

Strive for Quantity

Clearly, the goal of any ideation workshop is to generate ideas.  You want the group to generate alot of ideas because of this simple fact–Quantity Leads to Quality.  One of the best methods is to use the technique known as Brainstorming with Stickie-Notes.  In this method, the participants write the answer on a stickie-note, tell the group what they wrote, and stick their idea to the wall.

This approach is an interactive method that can charge up the group.  Plus, the people are doing self-documentation.  Finally, stickie-notes are small so the ideas are somewhat confined to the space.  There are no long explanations. 

Write. Say. Stick.  Repeat.

Defer Judgment

You want the group to defer judgment (both positive and negative).  You want to defer judgment in order to keep the ideas flowing.  Any comments will slow down the session.  Compliments, jokes, judgments, and sarcasm reduce the production of ideas on the stickie-notes.

In some cases, a negative comment can shut a person down, which reduces their production.  Plus, the entire team can shift into the “focus” mode of thinking.  A positive comment also has the same effect of shutting down a person.  Positive comments about another person’s ideas can lead a different person to stop generating their ideas for fear of rejection.

Piggyback Ideas

By piggybacking, we mean to generate an idea based from an idea that you heard in the session. For example, you might hear this idea: We vote for it. Here are a few ideas to piggyback from this one statement:

  • We do not vote
  • We let some else pick
  • We draw randomly from a box
  • We ask an expert
  • We ask a friend
  • We look it up on the Web

A word of caution about pggybacking:  team members can quickly generate alot of silly ideas, as the people want to make each other laugh.  The best solution is to generate a new, original idea for more piggybacking to occur.

Freewheeling Ideas

Freewheeling occurs when you engage your imagination.  In some case, you pick something unrelated to the topic.  In one workshop, the team was working on generating ideas for a new mobile appliction.  The freewheeling idea was to:

  • Insert a catapult into the phone

Freewheeling allows for people to look at the problem differently.  It primes the group’s thinking.  When the team heard about putting the catapult into the phone, they piggybacked these ideas:

  • Throw out the unnecessary features
  • Reduce the content
  • Make a better flow
  • Reduce the number of pages
  • Push data from the phone to another device

Ironically, these five ideas were only generated with the trigger word: catapult.


Use this simple guidelines for Genrating Ideas.  In my experience, showing these guidelines in your workshops with a brief explanation of their importance can lead to more effective workshops.  As previously mentioned, generating ideas is only one part of the equation.  Some guidelines for focusing ideas will appear in a future article.

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1 Response

  1. Pingback : Simple Guidelines for Focusing Ideas — Big Design Events

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