The whole creative process of coming up with and communicating new ideas

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What is Ideation?

Ideation essentially refers to the whole creative process of coming up with and communicating new ideas. Ideation is innovative thinking, typically aimed at solving a problem or providing a more efficient means of doing or accomplishing something. It encompasses thinking up new ideas, developing existing ideas, and figuring out means or methods for putting new ideas into practice.

Ideation - Image of the word ideation on a wall and next to a work table

In the business world, ideation is associated with things such as inventing and/or developing new products or services or creating new means or methods of production or delivery of products or services. Amazon’s “Prime” two-day delivery service is an example of ideation being used to address the question of how to serve consumers more efficiently.

Companies such as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) are known for encouraging constant innovation by allowing employees to spend a significant percentage of their time working on personal ideas or projects they may be related to developing new products or services.

Ideation is frequently part of what is known as the “design process,” which is the process of developing a plan for producing a new product or creating a new operating system. It may also include detailing or mapping out precisely how a new system or process will be implemented.


  • Ideation refers to the whole creative process of coming up with and communicating new ideas.
  • It can take many different forms, from coming up with a totally new idea to combining multiple existing ideas to create a new process or organizational system.
  • Ideation is similar to a practice known as brainstorming.

How Ideation Works

Ideation may present itself in any one of a wide variety of ways and arenas. The book “Ideation: The Birth and Death of Ideas,” written by Douglas Graham and Thomas Bachmann, lists several different forms that ideation may take, including the following:

  • Solving Problems – Ideation is often specifically aimed at problem-solving. For example, production managers at a company may be charged with coming up with ideas on how to reduce production costs.
  • Derivative Ideation – Derivative ideation refers to building on an existing idea, such as developing complementary products or accessories to sell along with a company’s main product.
  • Innovation – An example of innovation ideation is the process of a pharmaceutical company developing new medicines. Such a type of ideation often involves doing extensive research and experimentation as part of the ideation process.
  • Development of a “Revolutionary Idea” – Ideation sometimes ends up creating a totally new line of thought or set of ideas, such as the development of a new philosophy.
  • Serendipitous Ideation – Serendipitous ideation refers to situations where someone just happens to come up with a new idea even though they weren’t consciously trying to do so.
  • Combination Ideation – Ideation often includes combining multiple ideas to create a new process or way of doing something.

Ideation and Brainstorming

Ideation is often closely related to the practice of brainstorming, a specific technique that is utilized to generate new ideas. A principal difference between ideation and brainstorming is that ideation is commonly more thought of as being an individual pursuit, while brainstorming is almost always a group activity. Brainstorming is usually conducted by getting a group of people together to come up with either general new ideas or ideas for solving a specific problem or dealing with a specific situation.

For example, a major corporation that recently learned it is the object of a major lawsuit may want to gather together top executives for a brainstorming session on how to publicly respond to the lawsuit being filed.

Participants in a brainstorming session are encouraged to freely toss out whatever ideas may occur to them. The thinking is that by generating a large number of ideas, the brainstorming group is likely to come up with a suitable solution for whatever issue they are addressing.

The lines between ideation and brainstorming have become a bit more blurred with the development of several brainstorming software programs, such as Brightidea and Ideawake. These software programs are designed to encourage employees of companies to generate new ideas for improving the companies’ operations and, ultimately, bottom-line profitability.

The programs often combine the processes of ideation and brainstorming in that individual employees can use them, but companies may simulate brainstorming sessions by having several employees all utilize the software to generate new ideas intended to address a specific purpose.

More Resources

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