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How do I ideate?

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

Ideate is a sort after and foundational skill of innovation and creativity.

There are increasing expectations for leaders to upgrade their skills in formulating new ideas, facilitating innovation and idea management with their teams. Being imaginative and creative doesn’t come easily to everyone. Some leaders find it easy to come up with new ideas and others find it a struggle. To move quickly with change and to keep pace with technology, innovation and creativity are necessary. The ability to change and move with the times in new and innovative ways is increasing as markets change. Having a structured approach to innovation and creativity where the unobvious solutions and the big hairy audacious ideas start to come more easily is what we offer to help you improve at Leadingrowth. In our design thinking toolbox we have several different ways to assist you to ideate.


First, let’s look at

what we mean by ideate.

Ideate means to form ideas or concepts. Most innovations start out as ideas or concepts.

In a business situation, a leader has an idea or has created a concept that envisions the future. The leader conveys how they see the future. That vision could be an idea for an improvement in a workflow system, it could be a new app, a new product, a new sales process, or it could be a new offer that only exists as a concept. Ideate is a team game. When we ideate, the team are working out ways to make the leader’s vision come alive. As such, to ideate is a process.


Now let’s look at

where ideate fits in the big picture of design thinking.

Looking at the 4DLX-Grow Design Thinking Framework we see that the steps to do with ideation occur in all four phases of design thinking. In design thinking circles ideate is generally spoken about in the third phase of design thinking. This is because it is in the third phase of design thinking where we actively take the team through the ideation process.



Ideation is the process of generating ideas or concepts that align with the leader’s vision.

The process of ideation is structured and differs to a free-forming brainstorming session. An ideation session is a team game with a facilitator. The Facilitator encourages big hairy audacious ideas that address the vision board. If the vision board was created in phase two of the 4DLX-Growth Design Thinking Framework then the vision board will have pre-organised sets of principles and insights gained from the persona, empathy maps and experience maps. The research data sitting behind these maps comes from the first phase of the 4DLX-Growth Design Thinking Framework. The vision board shows the future envisaged by the leader.

The purpose of ideation

We ideate to explore the various pathways that will bring the leader’s vision to life. The facilitator will use several different tools from the Design Thinking toolbox to help the team to move forward and feel comfortable about generating big hairy audacious ideas in the ideation session.


Three popular tools to structure how you ideate are:

1. The wall of ideas

2. The ideas table

3. The ideas action matrix

An ideation session typically uses only one of these tools. Occasionally a leader will ask us to have several ideation sessions with their teams and when this happens, we will use multiple ideation tools from the design thinking toolbox and sometimes this includes all three, the wall of ideas, the ideas table and the ideas action matrix. My personal favourite is the ideas action matrix. This is due to the success I have witnessed with this tool when leaders move into the facilitation role.


How long is an ideation session?

We noticed our most successful ideation sessions are those that range between 30minutes and two hours in length. At Leadingrowth, we teach leaders to run their own sessions or we can run them for you. In a typical session we generally divide the two-hour session into 30-minute intervals of ideation to get the most out of each session.


What happens in an ideation session?

In an ideation session, the facilitator encourages the team to generate as many ideas as possible in short 30minute intervals of time. An important rule of engagement in an ideation session is no judgement. Every idea is valid and worthy of exploration. During a session we are either looking for a multitude of ideas or we are looking to turn ideas into many different concepts that will address the leader’s vision. In the session, the facilitator creates a comfortable environment conducive for creativity. The environment varies, sometimes it is digital, physical or phygital. A phygital environment is becoming increasingly popular as teams are split between locations, some at home, some at work, and some in different states or countries. The facilitator’s job is to keep the team on track and the ideas aligned with the vision created by the leader. The facilitator will remind the team of the vision should they go off track. Generally, at the session, and this will depend on the vision, the facilitator will assist the team with turning the ideas into concepts that match the vision. While we call what we are left with the wall of ideas, or the ideas table or the ideas action matrix or something else depending on which tool the leader selected, during the session these ideas have generally moved from ideas to concepts. After creating a wall, table, or action matrix of ideas or concepts, the facilitator will end the ideation session and the team will be left with several concepts that meet the requirements of the vision.


Stage 2 of ideate

The next stage of the ideate process is to reduce the concepts into workable pathways that could potentially bring the vision alive. We recommend the process of reducing the concepts is completed in a different session and on a different day. The process of creating new concepts is mentally draining and tiring for the team. We want to keep the team energized, fresh and focused. This is why we recommend another session on a different day. The reducing the concepts session is also mentally draining on the team and we want the team to be fresh and focused for the second stage of ideation.


Concept reduction

The concept reduction session is typically a two-hour session divided into three intervals. The concept reduction session is the second stage in the ideate process. The concept reduction session starts with concepts from the ideation session. Often there are more than ten concepts or ways of envisioning the leader’s vision, and this is too many. The reality is only a few concepts can go through to the next design thinking phase. To help the team with the process we ask the leaders to tell us how many concepts they are committed to taking further towards envisioning their vision. Three is a typical number. Sometimes it is one and sometimes it is as many as five concepts. Generally, time and money constrain how many concepts move forward towards the leader’s vision.


What are the three steps in concept reduction?

There are three steps to the concept reduction process session. The steps are:

1. the theming step

2. the unique identifier step, and

3. the rate and rank step.

After completing all three steps in the concept reduction session we end up with the number of concepts the leader specified. if the leader specified 3 concepts then we end up with three concepts.

This is where the concept reduction session ends. With ideate complete the leader and the team can move forward with their vision and start the process of developing prototypes for each of the concepts.


Do you want to learn how to ideate?

If you want to learn more about how to ideate. You might want to sign up for our course on moving ideas to action. The ideas to action course will give you the basics on how to ideate. In the course we run through three of ideate tools, the wall of ideas, the table of ideas and the action matrix of ideas. We also show you step-by-step how to reduce the concepts created from these design thinking tools into three concepts that you can move forward with towards envisioning your vision.


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