How to come up with an innovative idea

What is Ideation?

When trying to come up with a new idea, most turn to ‘brainstorming’. What happens when you can’t ‘storm’ anything useful though? What if you’re just not that creative? Often simply brainstorming on a blank page doesn’t get you very far.

The problem is a lack of structure. A blank page has unlimited options; too many for us to process. Could we become more creative by limiting options in a focused way? This is the concept of ideation; brainstorming with structure. There are many ideation techniques; I’m going to walkthrough how to use one.

Reversing Assumptions

This ideation technique has 3 steps:

1) Stating all the assumptions about a business, solution or industry

2) Reversing those assumptions

3) Brainstorming specifically on how to make the reversals true

Example #1

AssumptionReversed AssumptionHow to make it true
People on holiday stay in hotelsPeople on holiday don’t stay in hotelsPeople stay in other people’s houses

You can see how this technique could have been used to come up with AirBNB.

Example #2

AssumptionReversed AssumptionHow to make it true
People travel in taxis for short tripsPeople don’t travel in taxis for short tripsPeople travel in other people’s cars

By reversing a transport industry assumption, you might have predicted Uber.

You can see how powerful new ideas can spring from challenging existing assumptions. I ran this ideation exercise at a Technology and Entrepreneurship Meetup. We selected the Retail Fashion as an industry to disrupt.

Here are some of the assumptions the group came up with of the Retail Fashion industry:

AssumptionReversible AssumptionHow to make it true
Clothes are made first, then sold
Clothes are available in store
Clothes can be ‘tried on’
Customers select their own clothes
Customers buy clothes

We then reversed each of these assumptions:

AssumptionReversible AssumptionHow to make it true
Clothes are made first, then soldClothes are sold first, then made
Clothes are available in storeClothes are not available in store
Clothes can be ‘tried on’Clothes cannot be tried on
Customers select their own clothesCustomers don’t choose their own clothes
Customers buy clothesCustomers do not buy clothes

If you have a larger group, you could break out into smaller groups to brainstorm on how to make the reversed assumptions true. For each one, you may come up with multiple scenarios. Then you can pick the best ones, or iterate on those concepts.

For example for one assumption, different groups could come up with many possible ideas:

Reversed AssumptionHow to make it true
Customers don’t choose their own clothesStylists select the clothes
Family & friends select the clothes
Complete strangers select the clothes

Obviously not all of the ideas will be feasible. The idea is to generate lots of new ideas and look at things in new ways.

Here are just some of the business ideas we came up with in 10 minutes:

AssumptionReversed AssumptionHow to make it true
Clothes are made first, then soldClothes are sold first, then madeClothing designs are sold online and made to order
Clothes are available in storeClothes are not available in storeStores create 3D body scans of customers and a digital catalogue can be used to dress your avatar
Clothes can be ‘tried on’Clothes cannot be tried onSee above
Customers select their own clothesCustomers don’t choose their own clothesStylists choose their clothes for them
Customers buy clothesCustomers do not buy clothes Clothes are sponsored by advertisers and given away for free
As above As above ‘Wardrobe as a Service’ subscription where clothes are borrowed and returned for a flat fee

These ideas are more disruptive than what we would have come up with using traditional, blank-page brainstorming.

If you need more ideation in your life, here is a blog with 10 ideation techniques. Next time you’re looking for an idea, try one and see what your team can come up with.

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