The Mysterious Art of Idea Generation

Every new business, new product or service, and new marketing approach started with an idea. So whether you are looking to create a market-busting product like the iPod, or come up with a campaign idea like the Million Dollar Homepage, there are creativity techniques that can allow you to conceive something new and turn it into reality.

There are three major hurdles to overcome before any idea can come to fruition:

  1. Identify a Problem
  2. Idea Generation
  3. Idea Selection

Needless to say, having a solution without knowing what the problem is doesn’t usually get you very far, so know what it is you’re trying to accomplish and what problem you want to solve.

If you keep up with your industry, talk to customers, study what is not working in your business, you should have a ton of problems you would like to solve. Alternately, you can use sites like Google Trends to find problems that others are trying to solve, and design a better mousetrap.

Once you have that problem firmly in mind, you can begin using some of the proven techniques for generating possible ideas. Then begins the difficult choice of selecting the ideas that have the most potential. The remainder of this article will focus on the second step – Idea Generation.

There are many well-known techniques and methodologies for coming up with ideas including Brainstorming, Talking Pictures, and other group creativity exercises. There are also the many picture-based processes including Ishikawa Diagrams and Mindmaps. Since our minds work using pictures and inter-relationships versus words, many of these techniques are valuable in guiding us to new solutions. A great wiki site that provides an overview of techniques for all three areas of creativity techniques can be found at Peruse the entries to get some insight on current methods of idea generation.

Brainstorming is the most recognized buzz-word associated with idea generation, yet most people are not familiar with exactly what it means or how to go about it; some may picture locking them self in a room, deprived of food and drink until a great inspiration jumps out of their head – however, there are less painful and more productive methods available. Many of these methods have specific ground rules, guidelines, and methodologies (e.g. round robin, think tank, etc.). There are a ton of great sites to help you find a good brainstorming methodology including the Wikipedia entry on brainstorming techniques and also Perfect Brainstorming by Innovation Unlimited.

One of the more informative lists on the latter site is the 10 Rules of Brainstorming:

* Set Directions
* Involve Everyone
* Encourage Cross-Fertilization
* Don’t Overlook the Obvious
* Suspend Judgment
* Don’t Fear Repetition
* Don’t Stop to Discuss
* Record Every Idea
* Apply the 80/20 Rule

My personal belief is that “suspending judgment” is the most difficult rule for many people, and is the one that kills more good ideas before they ever even have a chance. Don’t assume something “will never work” or is “totally hair-brained” until you go through the entire process. It may just turn out to be the seed of exactly what you are looking for – you never know.

Another key observation, is that in almost all of these techniques ideas are generated as a group. Yes, it’s possible to come up with a great idea all by yourself, but working in a small group can provide the momentum to generate many possibilities, or make a good idea even better.

My personal favorite technique for idea generation is Mind Mapping. It is both an organizational, memorization, and creativity tool. It is based on the method that Leonardo Da Vinci used to keep his notebooks and construct new theories. There are even some good software tools related to Mind Mapping to help you get through and document the process: Mind Manager by MindJet, and Map Your Mind by Mayomi. There is also a free tool that is worthwhile called FreeMind . Others can be found at the Wikipedia entry for Mind Maps. If you are interested in some other creativity and idea generation tools that are not related to mind mapping per se, check out Axon Idea Processor and Imagination Engineering.

Finally, if you are interested in this whole topic of innovation in business and idea generation, the best blog I know of on this topic is Idea Flow by Renee Hopkins Callahan at Corante Hub.

So now that you have been inspired (?), get out there and start generating some ideas – and create the success you’ve envisioned for yourself.


Michael Martone is the author of the blog VerusNova which helps Small Business owners leverage technology to create a more successful business.

His blog can be found at

About Yaro Starak

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  • These are good points, Yaro. And I like the links you gave too. In any case, what I usually do is just write down words on my notebook and associate them with each other.

  • And most important how the selected idea going to get executed. The practicality of it.
    The process involved and duration for the whole.

  • Another great post Yaro.

    I did a blog post on how I come up with business ideas a little while back that may add a few extra ideas (hehe, what a pun): Business Ideas & How I Find Them


  • Yaro,

    You might like my Mind Mapping site. I offer pdf mind map templates and articles. They are paper based because I know some people brainstorm better with pen and paper.

  • Ideas seem to be on more and more people’s minds recently.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on a debate I started with David Seah on the topic of “ideas are worthless.”

    It started with a bit of a rant on my part:

    This was in response to a post he had made:

    After reading my thoughts, he replied here:

    So, are ideas worthless?

    Thanks for the great post! People seem to be attributing it to Yaro, but I think it was Michael Martone that wrote it as a guest blogger.

  • Yes quite right, this is entirely Michael Martone’s work, so he deserves the kudos. Check out his blog for more good stuff people!

  • […] His latest post by a guest blogger, The Mysterious Art of Idea Generation, is packed with ideas for you if you’re ever stuck for ideas. […]

  • Great article. It’s always good to keep your 5 senses wide open, relax to release your subsonscious, and have a paper and pen ready to jot down any ideas that can hit you anytime. I’ve written a similar article called “How to be innovative” at

  • […] The Mysterious Art of Idea Generation some techniques for idea generation (tags: ideas, inspiration) […]

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  • Mindmapping is great, but sometimes I find it a little bit too organized. Sometimes I like to start an idea generation session with something random and apparently unassociated with the problem. It gets my thinking outside of the box.

    When I feel brute force is needed, I’ll do a list of a hundred ideas, just everything I can possibly get down on paper. THEN I do the mind map.

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