7 Idea Generation Hacks to Spur Innovation

Lightbulb breaking apart.
Sometimes you need to smash your usual lightbulb.

“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question disliked by almost everyone, in part because it can be so hard to answer. Everyone has his or her own way of stimulating the imagination, but sometimes it takes a little work to get there. Here are a few idea generation hacks to help with your approach.

List Out Assumptions

It is incredibly easy to get lost in your own assumptions, so take a breath and write out the assumptions that are driving any idea. These can be institutional, such as the fixed cost of an asset or the unit pricing of a product, or they can be more abstract, such as “This approach has always failed in the past.” Ask why that’s the case. Is it still the case? Has something changed? What underpins these assumptions and can you address that?

Change The Medium

Instead of writing out ideas, try diagramming them on paper, or begin drawing to express your approach. Conversely, if you usually develop ideas in a tactile or visual way, try using words and speech instead. Try to explain your idea in a way everyone in the room understands, and leave room for them to jump in with questions or comments of their own.

Work Backward

It’s easy to get locked into a forward, linear approach to ideas, but if your ideas all stall at the same roadblock, try working backward from your ideal outcome. Can you find a way around, under, or through the problem from a non-linear direction?

Reverse Goals

Especially good for spotting problems, reversing your goals can offer new approaches. For example, if you’re trying to reduce downtime on your servers, turn that around and ask how you’d keep the servers down all the time.

Woman holding a paper cloud in her hand.
Changing mediums can spark new approaches.


Have somebody take the role of a typical member of the market to which you’re looking to cater. Have them be a tough customer to please, ideally peppering you with reasons not to buy, points that similar features are offered by competitors, or asking just how a new idea or feature is going to help their business. Putting yourself in the position of considering your audience particularly helps in refining ideas.

Morphological Analysis

Morphological analysis is a method of studying a problem by looking at its necessary relationships. For example, if you’re designing an app to solve a problem, what has to happen for that problem to come into being? Who or what needs to work together to support your solution? Can these relationships break down, or be ended, and how can you encourage or prevent that?

Take A Break

At a certain point, it’s simply not productive to keep smashing against a wall, so don’t. If you’re getting frustrated or find yourself going in circles, drop it and work on something else, get a coffee, or otherwise let it rest before picking it back up. This applies in the off-hours as well; often we do our best work when we focus on something else and let our brains apply themselves to the problem in other ways.

There’s no one road to creativity. By using multiple methods to get the ideas flowing, you’ll never be short of new approaches. To learn more, join our newsletter!

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