While the Market Scanning activity deals with external trends and evolutions, the Idea Generation and Capture activity deals with the internal generation of ideas, which can of course be influenced by the findings of the Market Scanning activity.

There are numerous potential sources of ideas available to innovating companies spanning internal, customer, external organisational, supplier and competitor domains (Glassman, 2009):

  • Internal employees - via direct solicitation and or participation in internal idea generation process (think-tanks, suggestion schemes, idea databases;
  • Customers – via direct solicitation, submitted ideas, interviews, focus groups, satisfaction studies and lead user studies;
  • Research organisations and universities – via licensing and technology transfer arrangements, technology releases, published literature, open innovation networks;
  • Supplier (current, possible, consultants, outsourcing partners) – via solicitation, problem statement, direct contact, part of contract and open innovation networking arrangements;
  • Competitors – via direct communications, observations, competitive intelligence gathering and market research data.

Turning to processes for generating ideas, a range of models exist to support the process of gathering and sorting ideas (Figure 1). Contextual Research (Conley, 2005) advocates in-depth customer research focusing on unmentioned and unseen needs based upon observation of users in their own environment via job shadowing and/or observation This process produces the largest benefit in that it develops a deep understanding of customer explicit and unmet needs in terms of informing potential solution ideas. IDEO’s idea generation process shares similarities to contextual research except it is much shorter in duration and more intense in its level of activities (Kelley & Littman, 2006). Unlike contextual research, which spends significant time coding and analyzing data, IDEO’s process goes right into presenting findings which are brainstormed and ranked prior to prototype solution development. Flynn’s Idea Generation process specifically priorities environmental scanning as an integral step in ideation. The focus is to find opportunities within the environment and in turn, validate the value of those opportunities.

Ideation Generation Frameworks

The Contextual Research Process:

Detailed studies of customer  unmentioned needs and situation


Further: Reading:

Conley, C.V. (2005). Contextual Research  for New Product Development. In A. Kahn, K. B.,  Castellion, G., Griffin, A. (2005). The PDMA Handbook  of New Product Development: 2nd (228-248). Hoboken,  New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Outcome Based Innovation:

Uncovers desired user outcomes to generate ideas


Further: Reading:

Ulwick, A. W. (2007, Fall). Turn customer input into  innovation. Harvard Business Review, 80(1), 91-97.

IDEO’s Idea Generation Process:

Similar to contextual research but heavier on brainstorming 


Kelley, T., and Littman, J. (2001). The Art of innovation,  Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading  Design Firm, New York, New York: Doubleday


Blue Ocean Strategy:

New ways to analyse market to

find gaps to generate new sub-markets  with very little immediate competition


Kim, W. C., & Mauborgne, R. (2005). Blue Ocean  Strategy How to Create Uncontested Market Space and  Make the Competition Irrelevant. Boston,

Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press,

Flynn’s Idea Generation Process:

Utilizes environmental scanning, opportunity identification to inform  idea generation


Flynn, M., Dooley, L., O'Sullivan, D., and Cormican, K. (2003). Idea  management for organizational innovation. International Journal of  Innovation Management, 7(4), 417-442


Outcome-based innovation (Ulwick, 2007) concerns surfacing customer’s desired outcomes, as opposed to their expressed needs or wants through detailed customer interviewing. Focusing on meeting customers desired service expectations, in terms of idea generation is argued to mitigate against the risk of customer rejection of new product/service solution development. Blue Ocean Strategy (Kim & Mauborgne, 2005) is premised upon the creation of new markets which retains the attributes of the main market but has a lower level of competition and much more room to grow. The process involves developing value curves on the basis of primary and secondary research and brainstorming activities. Brainstorming activities include: exploring customer trade-offs, exploring strategic groups in the industry, value curve explorations, exploring complementary products and services, focus on emotional appeals of functional offerings, and trend analysis.


Idea Generation Methods

Regarding methods for idea generation, a vast array of techniques exist and can be categorised across various dimensions such as creativity and problem solving techniques, voice of the customer and open innovation techniques while others map them according to group, individual and schema application approaches.

The following list describes some of the most used formally described methodologies for generating. It should be noted that it is not the focus of this framework to prescribe specific methodologies, instead, merely a listing of relevant methods are presented:

  • Brainstorming was first proposed by Osborn in 1963. The method involves the participation of many individuals to produce a range of ideas for a given problem (M.D., Feldmen, Hein, & Nagao, 2001). The main weakness of the method is that it assumes people in a group are able to generate good ideas and that a group setting may reduce the level of risk appetite (Amabile, 1988).
  • Problem mapping is a technique that involves a group of people working in a room with a board. The technique involves the establishment of the main problem (McAdam, 2004). Ideas and the way they connect to the main problem are then raised, building the map into a larger and more complex model. When all relevant issues and their relationships with the main problem are mapped out, the process then focuses on developing a method to solve them systematically. The main success with this model is that it helps in focusing the idea generation on the main problem by identifying all the relevant factors and their relationships. The method triggers thinking of solutions. However, the main problem is that there are usually no real boundaries between problems and it might therefore take a very long time to map out the whole problem (Weisberg, 1999). The model has two critical factors, which are the focus on the main problem and the establishment of a way to harvest ideas without the need to engage in endless analysis.
  • The Delphi method involves individual critical thinking, which is supposed to follow the logical way of thought of the individual. The method is expected to produce pure and complete ideas on how to confront the problem. The method appreciates that individual analysis may result in more concrete ideas than group thinking (McAdam, 2004). It however assumes the problem may be possible to be comprehended by an individual in its completeness. This is usually the major flaw and when the problem is big enough or when the variables involved are too many, the individual may take a very long time to figure out a new idea to solve the problem (Weisberg, 1999). The critical element in the method is the emphasis on critical analysis of the problem. Due to the focus of the effort on a critical and logical method, the technique is capable of producing unique ideas that are complete.
  • Lateral thinking is another very popular technique of idea generation that can be applied by an individual. The process was developed and popularized by de Bono (de Bono, 1970). The main feature of the method is that it involves the application of common solutions to different problems or introducing new problems to common scenarios (Terwiesch, 2009). The method emphasizes on the ability to recast the existing knowledge in different scenarios that have little resemblance to the scenarios in which the knowledge is commonly used. The critical elements of this method are therefore the emphasis on transcending the existing boundaries of thought and critical thinking by the individual as in the Delphi method. Fleming and Singh (Fleming & Singh, 2007) demonstrated that when the boundaries of knowledge are assumed away, the generation of ideas becomes stimulated and the result is usually a multiplicity of many new ways of doing the same thing.
  • Revolutionary Idea Generation is best applicable at an individual level although it has also been applied in groups. The method involves discarding all the existing knowledge about a problem and coming up with a new and original way of doing things or a new and original product. This idea is supported by many theorists like Goldenberg, Lehmann, and Mazursky (Goldenberg, Lehmann, & Mazursky, 2001) who argue that an idea that is really helpful must not be limited by existing systems and knowledge. Kavadias and Sommer (Kavadias & Sommer, 2007) demonstrated that ideas that are built on existing systems or evolutionary ideas rarely bring in radical improvements in products or systems. But ideas that were developed without the limitation of existing systems and ideas always brought about radical improvements. The critical idea in the method is therefore the lack of imitation from the existing knowledge and systems. The method therefore encourages unbounded imagination.
  • 1H5W is a method that focuses on answering the questions How, When, Where, Who, What, and Why. By focusing on these questions, the method seeks to identify all the elements of the problem and as a consequence, to make the solution show up (Finke, Ward, & Smith, 1992). The focus on questions offers a comprehensive approach to understanding problems, which makes the approach very popular in businesses. However, by asking the questions endlessly, the method suffers from the same problems as the mapping technique. Since there are no real boundaries between problems, the questions may be asked endlessly unless there is a limiting mechanism. The key element in the technique is the emphasis on comprehensiveness and also, like the mapping technique, on the importance of having a way to utilize ideas without being paralyzed by endless analysis.
  • The Checklist Method is another schematic method that is very popular in businesses today. The method has three aspects, which are attribute listing, wishful thinking and demerit listing (Ford, 2000). Attribute listing endeavors on identifying all the important characteristics of the systems and the people involved in the problem. This is expected to produce a comprehensive list of all the relevant attributes that can be integrated in problem solving or in the development of the new idea. Wishful thinking involves the unlimited imagination that focuses on ideals that can be achieved in resolving the current problem. The ideals are to be compared with the available attributes and with the best way to combine the attributes outlined (Estes & Ward, 2002). Demerit listing endeavors to identify all the possible ways in which the current way also helps map out all the available resources in form of attributes and does not limit the way the attributes can be combined. However, by focusing on improving the existing situation, the method suffers from the flaw of evolutionary approaches (Smith, 1998). The key element of this model is the emphasis on comprehensiveness and free imagination.
  • Mind mapping:The mind mapping technique was popularized during the 1960s by Tony Buzan as a superior way to visualize information, starting from a central concept and flaring out to several “tentacles” based on associated concepts (the concept of the radial map existed long before the popularization by Mr. Buzan however). A related technique is the “Concept map”, with the main difference being that the MindMap focuses on just one idea or concept at a time. The validation for this way of representation is that a visual, parallel representation of concepts is more in line with the way we visually process information than the serial notation you find in regular written text.
  • Brainwriting: brainwriting, in contrast to brainstorming, does not require people to yell out ideas. Rather than performing the ideation process by talking out load, people in a brainwriting session get to write out their ideas regarding a subject on a piece of paper. After a few minutes, the paper is passed to the next person in the group and so on. After about fifteen minutes, the sheets are collected, and posted up for discussion in the group. This way of working avoids one of the main pitfalls of brainstorming, where the most vocal people drown out the ideas of the less vocal people(Wilson, 2013). In addition, this technique tends to generate more ideas, as the amount of extraneous talking (that often happens during brainstorming) is reduced, and the process itself is more parallel in nature than brainstorming.
  • SCAMPER: SCAMPER is a mnemonic that stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate and Reverse. These seven concepts are used to categorize many of the questions devised by Alex Osborne, the Brainstorming creator. SCAMPER was developed by Bob Eberle (Eberle, 2008). Although originally created for children, the SCAMPER techniques can also be used in general ideation phases. Each of the categories contains a set of questions that one can use to see a product or a service in a new way.
  • 180 Degree Thinking: The 180 degree thinking technique is used to challenge your mind to come up with creative solutions by assuming the exact opposite of traditional assumptions. In some ways, this technique is similar to “Questioning assumptions” from (Mattimore, 2012). As an example, in PaCS, we could first come up with traditional assumptions about website authentication. For instance, “authentication should be performed only once for each visit”, “authentication should use long passwords”, “authentication is a process nobody really likes”. Now take the exact opposite of these assumptions, and start your creative process from there (Monahan, 2002).
  • Random Word: in this technique a random word is pulled from a dictionary, from which parallels to the product or problem at hand need to be drawn. The reasoning behind this is that these random words tend to take people away from their ‘local maximum’ zone into a completely unrelated zone, and thus might find an even better local maximum. (Mann, 2002)
  • Synectics: Synectics is an encompassing approach to creativity, with a focus on specific brainstorming tactics. (Prince, 2012) The technique was developed by studying videotaped meeting sessions to find tactics that are common to successful meetings.
  • Force Field Analysis: (link to Force Field Analysis paragraph on template page)Force Field analysis is a decision making technique developed by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s (mindtools.com, 2014). The techniques asks that you consider the forces against or for a change toward a goal. They enable you to decide whether you want to go ahead with the change or not, and help you to strengthen the forces that help the change.
  • Role Storming: In this technique, you have to take on a new virtual identity before starting a brainstorming session. The rationale is that this new identity takes away the potential embarrassment that might inhibit partakers in a brainstorming session. During the course of the session, the various participants have to switch identities in order to see the problem from a different perspective. (VanGundy, 1988)
  • Six Thinking Hats: this ideation technique identifies six distinct modes of thinking (represented by colored hats). These modes (or ways of thinking about things) are “Managing”, “Information”, “Emotions”, “Discernment”, “Optimistic response” and “Creativity”. The goal of the six thinking hats is to direct the participants of a session in their thinking process by forcing one mode of thinking. After a while, that mode of thinking is changed (putting on a different hat). In this way the problem is tackled from different angles in a structured way, rather than haphazard. The directed thinking might be on an individual basis (different people in the group can have different hats), or on a group basis (which is the normal way). Using this method, one can avoid the “spaghetti thinking” that is prevalent in western cultures (where one person thinks e.g. about the benefits, while another about something unrelated such as “materials used”). (Bono, 1999)
  • KnowBrainer: the knowbrainer method consists of a set of cards, categorized into four categories, “Investigate”, “Create”, “Evaluate” and “Activate”. These steps more or less correspond to the various steps in a generic innovation process. Each set of cards within a category contains questions, pictures, nouns, verbs and quotes. The goal of the cards is to guide the people that are trying to innovate by invoking responses to the cards. A question could for instance be “Who is your audience”, while a verb could be “Define”. (Haman, 2012)

In (Mattimore, 2012), the author describes seven less formally defined ideation techniques that can help in generating ideas:

  • Questioning assumptions: one of the inhibitors to innovation is the assumption that industries hold on how things are and should be done. These assumptions sometimes preclude people from thinking outside of the box. One technique is to systematically question these assumptions. The topics of these assumptions can be manifold, e.g. customer beliefs, material usage, pricing, distribution, marketing, etc. To use these techniques, first post a “creative challenge”, such as the creation of a new PaCS product. Next, explicitly define 20 to 30 assumptions that you might hold regarding this new product. Finally, address each of these assumptions, and verify whether challenging the assumption leads to new ideas or insights.
  • Opportunity redefinition: in this technique, the goal is to see an opportunity in different ways. First start with an opportunity statement, such as “How can we sell more secure authentication to students”. Next, pick the three most interesting words (e.g. sell, authentication, students). Finally, generate creative variations on these words (e.g. students could be “college students, high-school students and parents”) and place them in a table, with the original words as the headers. Now, form all variations of these words and see if that triggers new ideas (e.g. How can we provide a paying service for more secure game authentication to parents). Even though many times the new opportunity might not make sense, it will often trigger new ideas.
  • Wishing: in this technique, the goal is to make the most extraordinary wishes for your business without placing limitations on the creativity. They can, and perhaps should, be impossible to realize. Try to generate some 20 to 30 wishes in a session. Next, take a small subset of these impossible wishes, and try to generate more realistic versions of them. The author advises to think about the various perspectives, such as the user perspective when making the whishes more realistic.
  • Triggered brainwalking: this technique consists of several rounds of idea generation. A group first has to come up with a problem definition around which to generate ideas. Next, the group has to list several (5 to 10) aspects of this problem. The group facilitator now tapes several papers to the wall, and provides markers for each person in the group. Each person then tackles a single aspect, and writes down his own ideas. Afterwards, the group rotates so that each person tackles a new aspect. The goal is to add new ideas, or elaborate on previous ideas written down by team members that previously tackled the same aspect. During a session, the facilitator can advise some of the other techniques for people who find it difficult to contribute.
  • Semantic intuition: this technique can be used to reinvigorate a brainstorming session that is losing steam. Here, the brainstorming team has to think of three categories of words that are relevant to the product or problem around which the brainstorming session is centered. For a product based brainstorming session, this could for instance be “customer need”, “key selling point” and “location in store”. Now, generate a list of words for each category, and start combining them to come up with new product ideas. The facilitator should not be too rigid with this technique. If only two words are used for instance, that is fine. The goal is to rekindle the thought process in a new way.
  • Picture prompts: in this technique a facilitator selects a list of pictures that are relevant to the problem before the brainstorming session. Since pictures have the characteristic of generating strong emotions, this often sets off creative thinking processes. During the session each participant gets a picture and starts to generate ideas that come naturally to him or her when seeing the picture. In order for this process to work, one should make sure that the pictures are visually interesting and show many different types of interactions. Also, it is advised to include some images that are completely irrelevant to the task at hand, since these sometimes generate the most interesting ideas. Next, the participants pair up and further discuss their ideas. Finally, the ideas are presented to the group and discussed.
  • Worst idea: the goal of this idea is to take the pressure of brainstorming participants, and can best be used when the facilitator feels a creative burnout coming up during a session. The facilitator asks the group to come up with really bad and silly ideas that would never work or are even illegal. First, this should take the tension out of a group that is under pressure to come up with Big Ideas. Second, by asking the group to turn those bad ideas into good ideas, e.g. by considering their opposite, one could reignite the ideation process.


Many more idea generation techniques can be found in e.g. (Higgins, 2005), (Michalko, 2011) and (Smartstorming, 2010).

With all these methods, it is important to keep an open mind to possible solutions to a problem. If one focusses on a narrow solution spectrum from the start it is quite likely that only a “local maximum” solution will be found (Wikipedia, 2014), rather than an optimal solution.

After ideas have been generated, irrespective of the method used to generate them, it is important that they are captured and logged, together with relevant contextual information. This should happen regardless of whether they will be further pursued or not. Doing so will allow organizations to create a large portfolio that can be revisited later on and that act as input for new idea generation sessions.

Available Templates

Problem Mapping : 

Brainstorming : 

Brainwriting : 

RoleStorming : 

1H5W : 

Lateral Thinking :

Scamper : 

180 Degree Thinking = 

Six Thinking Hats :

Questioning Assumptions : 

Semantic Intuition :  TBC

Delphi method : 

Force Field analysis : TBC

Know Brainer

Revolutionary Idea Generation : 

Random Word : 

Synectics : 


Opportunity :

Wishing : 

Triggered brainwalking : 

Picture prompts : 

Worst idea : 




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Bono, E. d. (1999). Six Thinking Hats. Back Bay Books.

Conley, C., 2005. Contextual Research for New Product Development. In: The PDMA Handbook of New Product Development. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. Inc., pp. 228-248.

de Bono, E. (1970). Lateral thinking: creativity step by step. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

Eberle, B. (2008). Scamper: Creative Games and Activities for Imagination Development. Prufrock Press.

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Finke, R., Ward, T., & Smith, S. (1992). Creative cognition: Theory, research, and applications. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Fleming, L., & Singh, J. (2007). The Lone Inventor as the Source of Technological Breakthroughs: Myth or Reality? Boston: Harvard Business School.

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Ford, C. (2000). Creative development in creativity theory. Academy of management review, 25(2), 284-285.

Glassman, B., 2009. Improving Idea Generation and Idea Management in order to Better Manage the Fuzzy Front End of Innovation, West Lafayette Indiana.: PhD Thesis, Purdue University.

Goldenberg, J., Lehmann, D., & Mazursky, D. (2001). “The Idea Itself and the Circumstances of Its Emergence as Predictors of New Product Success. Mangement Science, 47, 69-84.

Haman, G. (2012). KnowBrainer Innovation & Creative Thinking Tool. SolutionPeople Innovation & Th.

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Terwiesch, U. (2009). Innovation Tournaments: Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities. Harvard Business School Press.

Ulwick, A. W., 2007. Turn Customer Input into Innovation. Harvard Business Review, 80(1), pp. 91-97.

VanGundy, A. B. (1988). Techniques of structured problems (General Business & Business Ed.). Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Weisberg, J. (1999). Creativity and knowledge: a challenge to theories. Handbook of creativity, 226-250.

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Wilson, C. (2013, 12 16). Using Brainwriting For Rapid Idea Generation. Opgeroepen op 10 17, 2014, van http://www.smashingmagazine.com/: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/12/16/using-brainwriting-for-rapid-idea-generation/

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