How to Generate New Ideas

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Business revolves around new ideas. Whether they are external customer-facing ideas (new bells and whistles, new products, etc) or internal (new ways of doing things), managers and their teams need to generate ideas to fuel the innovation pipeline.

But here’s the common scenario: The meeting is on. The call has just gone out for anyone with ideas to step forward… and… nothing. Crickets.

You’re stuck. Managers and teams only see one way ahead and they don’t like what they see. You feel like you only have one choice and you don’t like the choice you see.

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario as teams are unable to generate new ideas and fresh ways of thinking.

Here’s the catch-22 facing many organizations today: You can’t seem to move forward but everyone knows that you simply can’t stay where you are today.

Now, next time you or your team is faced with a dilemma, ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the easiest thing to do?
=> This is a great first question to ask, as often it defines the bare minimum.
  • What would have the biggest impact?
=> Have a think around what would make the most difference and see where that takes you. Often this is the bold, the courageous and what lies outside of your comfort zone.

Get Creative

Now that you know what would have a greater impact, how do you unleash the flood of ideas to get you from where you are now to where you want to be?

=> Look at the big picture. (Literally.)

Sometimes words get in the way. We live in a world that values language. Particularly in organizations, writing and talking are given importance; these talents represent credibility, expertise, wisdom and safety.

Ironically, most of us don’t think so well with words. You’re a better visual thinker than you realize. The majority of us are visual creatures preferring to think and conceptualize in images before a word is ever spoken.

Indeed, it’s been said that thinking strategically means thinking visually. Before you can take any kind of action, you need to be able to visualize a solution.

Make the most of this underused skill. Grab some paper and a pencil (or even a box of crayons!). Think about your challenge and sketch out some solutions.

=> Stand on the shoulders of giants…

Whatever you’re facing, someone else has already solved it. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look at their solutions. Adapt them. Make them your own.

Poke around on the Internet. Answer these questions:

  • Who else has faced a similar challenge? (Trust me, someone else has.)
  • How have they solved it?
  • What parts of that solution can you use, borrow or adapt?

Tom Peters, one of the leading business thinkers, says that organizations should move beyond the “not invented here syndrome” and adopt a “stolen with glee” attitude.

=> Break it down.

So, you’ve got something that isn’t working? It’s time to break it. If your challenge has more than three components – or steps – to it (and most things do) it can be improved by using this exercise.

On your handy pad of paper, break down your challenge into its various components. Now ask yourself these questions (in no particular order):

What can I eliminate?
What can I add?
What can I shrink?
What can I increase?
What can I make faster?
What can I make slower?
What can I make cheaper?
What can I make more valuable?
What can I reverse?

Now you get to play with each smaller piece of your problem. Apply some of the change questions to the smaller sections of the process that you are drawn to first. But don’t forget to look at the other pieces too. They might be full of potential. For each step, also ask yourself “Why?” and generate lots of possible changes…

By breaking the problem down into as many discrete steps as possible, we get to turn our laser focus on smaller parts of the process, rather than trying to solve the whole thing all at once.

Originally published at

About the Author

Michael Bungay Stanier is the Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work.

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