20 Tips for Ideation Excellence

The so called fuzzy front end of innovation doesn´t have to be that fuzzy. Here is Gijs van Wulfen´s comprehensive list of tips for polishing and perfecting your ideation process.

The fuzzy front end of innovation confronts you with a lot of questions. In my new book ‘Creating innovative Products and Services’ I try to solve them with the FORTH innovation method.

The fuzzy front end is the nickname for the start of innovation or ideation phase. Getting innovative ideas is a vague process. It’s considered as hard to do. That’s exactly why I like to unfuzzy it. I wrote more than a dozen blogs on this on Innovationmanagement.se. In this blog all my advices come together in 20 tips for ideation excellence.

  1. Create momentum for your ideation project. There must be urgency otherwise innovation is considered as playtime and nobody will be prepared to go outside the box. If this is not the case: just wait until the organisation is ready.
  2. Manage the expectations of your bosses and of the line management before you start your ideation project(s).
  3. It is essential to start your innovation journey with a clear and concrete innovation assignment. This forces the top management, from the start, to be concrete about the market/target group for which the innovations must be developed and which criteria these new concepts must meet. This forms the guidelines underway.
  4. Use a team approach to get both better ideation results and internal supporters for the innovative outcomes. Invite people for whom the assignment is personally relevant. Invite both people for content as for decision-making reasons. Invite also a couple of outsiders as outside-the-box thinkers. Get a good mix between men and women, young & old, et cetera.
  5. Let the internal top problem-owner (vice-president) participate in the ideation team.
  6. Use a structured ideation approach. To think outside the box is a good start. But you have to come back with innovative concepts, which fit the ‘in the box’ reality of your organisation, otherwise nothing will happen. The FORTH innovation method connects creativity and business reality in five steps. FORTH is an acronym and stands for Full steam ahead, Observe and learn, Raise ideas, Test ideas and Homecoming.
  7. Great ideas for innovative new products or services fit 7 criteria. Use them actively in your project: 1. Very appealing to customers. 2. It stands out in the market. 3. It has great potential for extra turnover. 4. It has adequate profit potential. 5. It fits management’s personal goals. 6. It is (somehow) considered quickly feasible. 7. It creates its own internal support.
  8. When you brainstorm unprepared with the usual colleagues hardly anything new appears. That’s why it is essential to get fresh insights before you start creating ideas. Let all team members visit customers and others that serve as a source of inspiration for innovation opportunities
  9. Winning new concepts give potential customers a concrete reason to change. It will solve relevant problems of customers. If you want to create innovative products or services start with discovering relevant customer frictions to solve. There are several ways to discover them, like personal visits, focus groups, web searching and crowd sourcing.
  10. Be aware of the fact that a new product idea is not only ‘a creative product’ but also must comply to all the regular business criteria of your organisation too.
  11. In ideation workshops, apply creative think techniques in the most effective way and monitor all participants and involve them in the process at the same time.
  12. Time box. Work with strict deadlines. They help you to get people outside the box. And to make choices.
  13. Be open to ideas or suggestions from your ideation team to adapt the process. Do not always try and keep to the programme for the workshop series you have set.
  14. In brainstorming sessions, spend twice as much time on the convergence process as on the divergence process.
  15. Allow people to choose which innovation opportunity, idea, concept board or mini new business case they want to work on. If you allow them to do this then they can choose not only that which they have a passion for but also what they have knowledge of which will lead to good results.
  16. Hire visualisers, cartoonists or make a movie to visualise your ideation process and the results.
  17. Keep the pace of your ideation process going; otherwise it becomes long-winded and boring.
  18. How attractive are the new product or service concepts really? That’s a legitimate question. Therefore you reflect on the concepts immediately. And you should check the strength of the ideated new concepts among potential customers. Use the voice of the customer internally.
  19. Return with mini new business cases instead of post-its or mood boards. And substantiate, in a businesslike and convincing manner, to what degree and for what reason the new concept can meet their criteria.
  20. Make use of the specific expertise of others from within the organisation as much as you can in an early phase.

So, I hope my tips will stimulate you to ‘unfuzz’ your own front end of innovation.

I wish you lot’s of success in your own ideation projects. Do you like more tips, formats and checklists? You can download thirteen free checklists of the FORTH innovation method here. Do you have other tips for successful ideation? Please share them with us!

About the author:

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).

He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.

Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.

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  • Corrinne Goenee

    Like the article! Pls let me add some additional tips for successful ideation/innovation:
    1. The organisation has to be ready. a. Find the connection by locating anchor points for your approach and then show how it fits in their existing (innovation) processes. Otherwise they are not likely to understand the added value of the approach. b. Find internal ambassadors to convince the internal decision makers. The perceived risk will be lower.
    2. Start EASY. No out-of-the-box-brainstorming or innovation until the basic questions have been answered. Is the product, its positioning and communication hitting the mark with the target group? Did anyone truly understood their life and needs and context? A Consumer/Customer Centric approach is highly recommended and often mentioned, but the product focus always stands in the way… So, do the homework first, do the research and interact for conclusions; just get closer to your target group and act on it. Pick the low hanging fruit, then proceed to the more advanced Fuzzy Front End processes.
    3. So then, I totally agree, start the more creative process – through inspirational research AND interaction; both in divergence and convergence phases. Use abstract/rational or concrete/emotional ideation methods. Just don’t be mistaken – business creativity doesn’t necessarily imply a totally free and chaotic thinking process. On the contrary. Highly creative minds benefit more from being cornered than from being given free rein…

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