What is ideation?

Ideation: How to develop successful ideas

Ideation is important for continuous improvement as well as for idea management and innovation managementIdeation also plays an important role in digitalization and the development of digital business models.

In this article you will learn about different success factors for the ideation process. In our free e-book “Create Outstanding Organizations” you will learn how to win and successfully implement high-value employee ideas.

Idea management whitepaper

The term ideation describes the process in which new ideas are created. This process begins with the search for inspiration and the generation of initial ideas and ends with ideas elaborated in detail.

The limitations of brainstorming for ideation

Many companies use brainstorming as a creative technique: employees meet in a team to generate ideas. The most important rule is that there is a clear separation between idea generation and idea evaluation.

But the results of ideation sessions often do not meet expectations. Instead, only a few ideas seem convincing. Although the brainstorming session had a positive spirit, participants laughed and collected a lot of crazy ideas, most of these ideas prove to be useless afterwards.

Why is that? Brainstorming is a simple, but not a structured creative technique for ideation. “Feel free, and the ideas will flow.” This doesn’t always work. Brainstorming has established itself as a popular method for ideation sessions. However, it is not suitable for more complex questions like the development of disruptive innovation or digital business models. Complex ideas can be developed through methods such as co-creation and open innovation or through innovation challenges.

In order to develop high quality ideas in an ideation session, you need to identify hidden problems that others don’t see, approach these problems from different angles, seek inspiration, and really develop an idea in detail. Just like Thomas Edison did, who managed to develop high-quality ideas like on an assembly line. His credo: “A small invention every ten days, a big invention every six months.”

How creative techniques support successful ideation

“Which creative technique is best for ideation?” This question is based on a misunderstanding. It gives the impression that you can gain creativity through the use of techniques. But there’s a fact that is ignored by many: Creative techniques are only an aid to thinking.

Creative techniques help you to create a framework for ideation. They support you in recombining different pieces of your knowledge in the ideation process. You can imagine a creative technique like a computer program that keeps recombining files on a hard drive in new and different ways. The program – no matter how awesome it is – is completely useless if there is no content on the hard drive.

The basics for ideation are not creative techniques. The foundations are in your mind. Imagine everything you know, all the experiences you’ve made in life, all the things you’ve seen, all the mistakes you’ve made, as a collection of puzzle pieces. You used to be a salesman, then worked as a surf instructor for a year and started studying to become a programmer? You might have perfect prerequisites to develop software programs that are characterized by innovative customer experiences. Why? Because you know how customers approach new products and what they are looking for. And as an instructor you have learned to take away people’s fear of the new and unusual. Creative techniques help you to recombine the pieces of the puzzle of your life and recombine them for successful ideation.

Successful ideation is based on creativity and strategy

The creative nightmare of a top manager looks like this: Creative employees take over. All business meetings are canceled and replaced by ideation workshops, in which participants are free to think whatever they want. Every new ideation session is more unusual and crazier than the previous one. Market research and structured processes are abolished, the free-thinking spirit is alive. Within a few months, creative employees lead the company into chaos.

Ideation without a clear innovation strategy or a focused digital strategy sometimes does more harm than good. The fact that employees think creatively and develop new ideas has initially no economic value at all. Imagine that someone in an ideation session would come up with the idea of having an artist creatively design all the long-distance trains of a railway company. That would be extremely creative, no question about it. But how many people do you know who say: ” Since the trains have become colorful, I ride trains a lot more often”?

Creativity is only a valuable resource in the ideation process if it is successfully directed and if it serves to better achieve strategic goals.

  • Successful ideation sessions help to implement an innovation strategy better and more efficiently.

  • Successful ideation is the combination of creative and strategic thinking.


It is important for companies that employees not only develop many ideas, but above all the right ones. In contrast to artistic or “crazy” creativity, strategically oriented ideation is used to develop new products, services and business models, to optimize processes and procedures or to find new ways to achieve goals better.

The Innolytics® innovation software is a tool that supports idea generation through the combination of strategy and creativity. Companies can systematically develop new ideas, integrate employees from different areas and implement transparent ideation processes.

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