How to Generate Ideas


An illustration depicts the process of how to generate ideas.

Why is it that some people seem to have lots of ideas and others don’t? If you feel like you struggle to generate ideas, there are a few simple techniques that can help transform you into an “idea person.”

We call the process of coming up with new concepts “ideation.”

Ideation is the generation of ideas. Ideas become innovations when they are successfully implemented. Innovations improve our quality of life and entrepreneurs create jobs by commercializing them.

Here are some ways to ideate:

  • Ask questions: Foremost, idea people are curious people. They ask a lot of questions of others and especially of themselves. Their sentences often begin with “W” words—who, what, where, when, why—and also “how.”
  • Write Your Ideas Down: Creative people keep lists and notes. Edison had thousands of notebooks with notes and ideas in them. Leonardo Da Vinci’s notes were written in mirror writing and his notebooks also contained fascinating drawings. Don’t lose those ideas!
  • Think Associatively: Many ideas are the result of associative thinking. By that, I mean taking an idea in one context and joining it with another possibility or opportunity. Steve Jobs had a great ability to adapt computing technology to new practical uses. He appreciated the artistic aspect of science and made Apple’s products simple and beautiful. New experiences often yield ideas when people observe different perspectives and are astute at adapting existing approaches to new opportunities.
  • Put Ideas to the Test: Innovators know the importance of experimentation. Testing is key to many advancements.

How to Generate New Ideas in the Face of Resistance

Creating and developing ideas is not always easy and there are often critics and detractors. Innovators need to steel themselves against the frequent resistance to change present when introducing new ideas.

Persistence is a key attribute of a creative person. Creative people are idea adventurers who thrive on discovery. Resilience is another common quality of innovators. Innovators do not expect success to come easy and they keep pursuing their quest for a solution to a problem or opportunity. They are intellectual athletes who have the mental stamina to continue their quest.

Creativity propels innovation and offers great rewards. Societies and organizations need to encourage innovation. That is the reason for a historic abundance of innovation in the United States. Our patent laws and economic system draw innovators from abroad. The US continues to be a place where ideas are supported more than in other parts of the world.

You Generated an Idea. Now What?

Sometimes people think that ideas appear like a lightbulb being turned on with a switch. That often does happen after a period of hard intellectual examination. But usually, a brand new idea is unready for implementation. The path through testing, economic analysis, and implementation will require numerous adjustments. There is frequently a need for collaboration with experts along the way to implementation. A team approach should be considered. Support is key to most major innovations in today’s complex world. Being able to build a supportive team is often essential to being innovative. Of course, be sure to protect your ideas legally.

Most serial innovators and other creative people have a technique for monitoring their progress. They have goals for certain innovative output. My recommendation is to set a quantitative goal that is challenging but attainable.

The more ideas you come up with the more likely you are to get some that are useful. Very few significant ideas are ready to be implemented at first blush. They invariably need to be modified, even during implementation. Ideation should be an ongoing process.

Often the best goal is to expect continuous improvement. A certain amount of time set aside daily for ideation will help to maintain your focus on innovation. What motivates most creative people is the joy of discovery in the pursuit of something they are passionate about.

Many of your ideas will not work. Don’t be discouraged. Keep generating ideas and a certain percentage will succeed. Your journals will reveal patterns in your creativity. Read a variety of books and articles, and explore the internet for ideas. Visit other locals and associate with creative people.

Know the difference between a setback and a failure. Ideation rarely fails. When an idea is not sufficient it almost always is a link to a new possibility. Stay on the trail. Approach the idea from another angle for a different perspective. Appreciate simplicity. And always observe.

The only way you can fail is if you quit!

Try Something New

We all are born with curiosity. It’s essential in helping us adapt to the world. Then it is subtly discouraged by a “system” that promotes the status quo. That needs to be resisted. Be observant and ask questions. Listen to others with different perspectives. Experiment and test your ideas. Be persistent.

Set goals for your creative efforts. Set aside time, if necessary. What idea(s) did you have last week? When you keep track of your progress, it will be evident if you are getting results.

Then act. Ideas are just dreams until you implement them. Make your dreams come true!

Transform Your Ideas into Career Gains

At Elmhurst University we have created a one-year part-time graduate certificate program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship that develops one’s ability to be an entrepreneur or intrapreneur.

Our hands-on emphasis includes business mentoring, a startup incubator/accelerator, an entrepreneur-in-residence, and other innovation support. Complete the form below to learn more today!

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About the Author

Bruce Fischer is the Coleman Foundation Distinguished Chair and Professor of Project Management at Elmhurst University. His research interest is innovation and entrepreneurship, and he serves as the director of Elmhurst’s Graduate Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship program.

Posted April 19, 2022

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