10 Ideation Techniques for Problem-Solving

Updated June 24, 2022

Coming up with solutions to business problems can sometimes feel overwhelming. But you can implement several ideation exercises to make this process productive and fun. Understanding which technique will work best for your team's situation can help you generate more ideas and more optimal solutions. In this article, we explore 10 ideation techniques that will help you more effectively develop ideas and solve problems.

Related: What is Design Thinking? The 5 Phases Explained (Definition and Example)

What are ideation techniques?

Ideation is the third step in the design-thinking process, which is a user-focused method of solving problems. During this step, a team can host an ideation session or workshop to create a structured process in which a facilitator can guide participants through exercises to come up with ideas for the situation they want to solve or the product they want to develop. People often use ideation techniques to create a list of as many solutions as possible, which they can then narrow to the most viable options.

Related: The 5 Stages of the Design Thinking Process: How Do You Use It Effectively?

10 effective ideation techniques

There are a variety of ideation strategies you can use to generate ideas, so choose the ones that best suit your needs. Consider adding some of the following 10 techniques to your next ideation session agenda:

1. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a well-known technique that leverages the interaction between a group of people to create solutions by building on one another's ideas. For more effective brainstorming, use this technique with a group of about five to seven participants. Having a smaller group and limiting your brainstorming session to 20 minutes helps keep the conversation focused. Try to include participants from a variety of backgrounds or perspectives to generate more diverse ideas.

To set up a brainstorming session, you need a facilitator who can make sure all voices are heard and guide the conversation. They should establish an environment that embraces all ideas and discourages negative feedback. Participants need to raise ideas, listen to one another, then build upon and discuss them as a group.

Related: 25 Brainstorming Techniques for Problem-Solving and Planning

2. Worst idea

The worst idea technique asks participants to come up with their worst solutions to a problem. While a brainstorming session encourages all ideas, some people may still feel nervous about potential criticism—this technique removes that fear because it welcomes bad ideas. It often provides a more fun environment, as participants try to entertain one another and use their creativity to create ridiculous ideas.

Once your team pitches their worst ideas, your facilitator will then ask them to list the attributes that make those ideas bad. Now the participants must think about the opposites of those negative attributes to find what would turn those bad ideas into possible solutions. Even just discussing the worst ideas can lead to connections or sources of inspiration that can lead to positive solutions, demonstrating their unexpected value.

3. Storyboarding

Storyboarding is a helpful technique when designing or improving processes. Participants create a visual story that presents their ideas and the possible outcomes of those ideas, allowing them to understand what works and what needs improvement. Follow your customer's journey through the process, including the impacts of your solutions.

Think of a storyboard as a comic strip, but do not worry about artistic abilities—represent each step in the process using squares filled with either text or images describing the user's journey, and arrows between them. When looking at each step in the process, think about how you want your users to feel about or interact with that step, then determine what solutions or ideas will enable that. Storyboarding each step of your process can also be helpful because you may realize you missed an essential step.

4. Mind mapping

Mind mapping is a visual technique that establishes relationships between the problem your team is trying to solve and potential solutions. In the middle of a piece of paper or whiteboard, write your problem statement or a high-level keyword related to the problem. In the area surrounding that statement, you will describe any related solutions or ideas raised by the team and link them to the central theme using lines. Next, add another layer that specifies how you will achieve those proposed solutions, linking them to the previous layer.

For example, a small business owner could write that they have low social media engagement in the middle of the page. Next, they might create bubbles that represent solutions to improve user engagement, such as quality content, posting schedules and direct conversations. Then they can add a layer that outlines strategic actions to achieve those solutions, such as linking the ideas "post more images" and "re-share content from influencers or customers" to the quality content bubble. By using a mind map, you can break large ideas or problems into smaller, more manageable solutions.

5. Brainwriting

Brainwriting is a version of brainstorming that works well for more introverted participants. Each person has a piece of paper and five minutes to write down as many solutions to the problem your team wants to solve. At the end of that time, they will then pass their piece of paper to another participant, who will build upon the ideas they had written down. You will repeat this process until everyone has contributed, then a facilitator collects all of the papers and displays them.

Once displayed, everyone will discuss each idea and determine which ones best solve your needs. Now you can begin improving and building these concepts further for potential use. The advantage of this technique is that it allows everyone to contribute to the ideation process and have their ideas considered. In typical brainstorming sessions, some people speak less while others might dominate the conversation, so this helps ensure a fairer environment.

6. Questioning assumptions

Many industries have an assumed set of beliefs about how to do things, but this technique challenges those beliefs to try to create more original ideas. For this reason, you may want to use this technique to improve an existing product or build a new one. Think about what you want to solve or create, then write 20 to 30 assumptions about that product, service or idea as a group. These assumptions can be both positive and negative and should cover all aspects of your business.

Next, go through these assumptions (or choose a few, depending on time constraints) and discuss whether they are true or just have not faced questioning before. By doing this, your team might realize that some assumed characteristics or strategies are not necessary, and you can replace them with newer, more innovative ideas.

7. Sketching

When designing a product, you may want to incorporate sketching to help explore your ideas further. Some people have an easier time conveying their ideas visually rather than verbally, and it can help your team think about more abstract concepts. There is no pressure to create a perfect or final image of your product, as these should be rough drafts or simple sketches that illustrate your ideas.

Collaborative or group sketching is similar to brainwriting, but each participant draws ideas instead of writing them. These drawings are then passed around and built upon by other participants, and finally presented to everyone and discussed. During this discussion, you may find connections between the drawings that will help you create the most optimal design solution. Again, this is a good option for more artistically minded teams and also ensure that everyone's ideas receive consideration from the group.

8. Analogies

An analogy is a comparison between two items or concepts, which you can use to generate new ideas. You can use an analogy to simplify the problem you are trying to solve. To do this, compare your situation to a situation familiar to everyone. As a group, you can use a template like this: If [x] is true for that situation, how can we make it true for ours?

For example, a marketing team might say their industry is a lot like fishing. A fisherman needs to understand what type of fish he wants to catch and what bait attracts them, much like a marketing campaign has a target audience that they want to attract. Now they start generating ideas on what type of "bait" they need to focus on or what strategies will lead to quicker customer acquisitions.

9. SCAMPER

SCAMPER represents seven ways to look at a problem or project, enabling you to come up with ideas from a variety of perspectives. This technique works well when working with an existing product or service to determine how you can improve it or use it as a starting point to develop a new offering. Ask yourself questions based on the SCAMPER elements, and determine whether your answers represent viable solutions. By looking at the product or services from these different angles, you may find solutions you would not think of otherwise.

Here is what SCAMPER stands for, and an example question for each element:

  • Substitute: What features of this product or service can be substituted or swapped for something else?

  • Combine: How can we combine this product or service with another product or service to improve it?

  • Adapt: How could we adapt this product or service to another audience?

  • Modify: What component of this product or service can we modify to improve it?

  • Put to another use: What is another use for this product or service that we have not considered yet?

  • Eliminate: What unnecessary elements can we eliminate from this product or service to streamline it?

  • Reverse: What would happen if we reversed our process or reorganized this product?

Related: 18 Creativity Exercises to Improve Creative Thinking and Problem-Solving at Work

10. Bodystorm

The bodystorming technique asks individuals to act out situations. Ideation contributes to the design thinking process, which focuses on user needs, and physically taking the place of your potential user can help you think about the problem in a more empathetic way. The use of physical movement can also help energize participants and raise excitement for generating ideas.

You must set up the scenario you are trying to create ideas around, which may require props. Have participants act out the processes you are trying to improve or the situations you are trying to solve while generating ideas on how to achieve those goals at the same time. Bodystorming enables participants to take a hands-on approach to potentially abstract problems.

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