Understanding Ideation: So much more than just the idea.

The Idea Guy

The Idea Guy   •   July 3, 2017

This isn’t going to take very long to write – I’ve been thinking about this since it happened on Friday.

I was delivering my second Design Thinking workshop of the day: faculty in the morning, Fulbright scholars in the afternoon. 29 international students with academic honors that are preparing for the Masters and Doctoral programs have come to learn Design Thinking.

I get to the part where I’m explaining each step of the process: Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test and Share.

A girl wearing a hijab to my left who has been engaged since I started raises her hand when I ask if anyone has any questions. She politely asks, “What is ideation?”

I thank her for asking a question as I’m sure there are others in the workshop that may not know the word, or at least could not offer a definition of their own. I explain that “ideation” is a fancy word that simply means “to create an idea.” I also share that I have seen it used by some people to make themselves sound smarter than they are, or to make others feel less smart.

Since I started hearing the word used in business circles in 2008, the word “ideation” has come under fire with “informal criticism as being a term of meaningless jargon.” I am careful to use it in the most appropriate of situations, usually with other $2 words like innovation, systemic and hypothesis.

So, the workshop continues and we get to Ideation. The same girl is energetically generating multiple sketches during divergent thinking (generating lots of ideas) and is confidently generating her singular idea (convergent thinking) based on her partners feedback.

We move into prototyping and she goes right for the legos. She assembles something tangible for her partner to interact with that demonstrates her idea to solve his problem: How might I do better in graduate school?

She presents her concept, he reacts positively and starts taking pictures of her and the prototype. When we’re done with the workshop the students take a class picture and invite me in to be apart of it. When we’re done, the girl comes up to me and she makes me realize that ideation – generating an idea – can be so much more than just the idea.

“I want to thank you. In my country, women are either a teacher or in social services; this or that. Today, I realized that I can be anything I want to be.”

Take a minute. Think about it, in context.

She learned more than how to create an idea, she learned that she can create ideas.

Maybe it’s me, but I counted this as a really good day because someone in my workshop told me they are thinking significantly different about themselves. That they have realized they have the ability to change their world and is demonstrating the confidence to do so.

This is the kind of thinking – and change – that will change the world.