How ideas flow and grow in the creative process

How ideas flow and grow in the creative process

Published On:
May 22, 2023

“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else,” the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso once said. He is right. As you go through an effective creative process method stage by stage, the nature of an idea changes and evolves. Let me explain this evolution of an idea using our award-winning X-IDEA innovation method with its five process stages Xploration, Ideation, Development, Evaluation, and Action.

Xploration: Capture any initial idea while making sense of your project case

“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them,” said the British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. What happens when you think of an idea and fail to write it down? Exactly. You forget it very quickly. Ideas have the unfortunate habit that they tend to vanish from our minds if we don’t jot them down straightaway.

When you start to investigate your innovation case with your project team in the initial Xploration stage of X-IDEA, inevitably, you or some of your teammates will already get an idea about what you could do to resolve your challenge. Throughout the X-Stage, we capture these Initial Ideas on an Initial Ideas List. Later in the creative process, upon entering the Development stage, we return these initial ideas to the team. And guess what? Some of these get combined with other ideas, and others even can be designed into a full-fledged idea concept.

Ideation: Produce hundreds or even more than a thousand of raw ideas

“To have a great idea, have a lot of them,” the American inventor Thomas A. Edison recommended. Correspondingly, the second stage of X-IDEA, Ideation, is about idea quantity. Depending on the time at hand, we guide an innovation team toward producing hundreds or even more than a thousand ideas during Ideation.

As X-IDEA is one of the few creative process methods with two distinct creative stages, these ideas don’t need to be perfect yet, which is why we call them Raw Ideas. However, even a raw idea needs to meet the essential criteria of an idea (i.e., a suggestion of a possible course of action expressed as a sentence with a verb constituting the action element). Usually, a viable raw idea has anything between ten to twenty words, just enough that it fits nicely on a three by 3-inch Post-it note. So by the end of the Ideation session, we typically have created an idea studio where all the room walls are fully covered with hundreds to thousands of colorful raw idea Post-its. As the American poet Mark van Doren noted: “Bring ideas in and entertain them royally, for one of them may be the king.”

Development: Design raw ideas into concepts

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen, and thinking what nobody has thought,” said the Hungarian Noble-Prize-winning biochemist Albert von Szent-Gyorgi. Idea Discovery is the first step of X-IDEA’s third process stage, Development. Thereby, the teams review all their raw ideas generated during Ideation (and also the few dozens of initial ideas from the Xploration stage) to discover Intriguing Ideas (which are either Interesting Ideas or Wild Ideas) and discard the majority of ordinary raw ideas as we advance. In numerical terms, a team that has produced a thousand raw ideas typically discovers around 200 intriguing ideas. The Noble-prize winning chemist Linus Pauling sums up the essence of this creative principle as follows: “The best way to get good ideas is to get a lot of them and throw the bad ones away.”

“An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought,” noted Pablo Picasso. As such, the members of an innovation project team subsequently use their discovered wild and interesting ideas to design idea concepts with the help of three transformative creative principles: elaboration, combination, and transmutation. A well-Designed Idea Concept has anything between 100 to 250 words (so that’s roughly ten times more words than a raw idea) and complies with five criteria: It needs to:

  1. detail out what the idea is all about,
  2. whom it targets as a user or beneficiary,
  3. why it’s valuable and meaningful to that target persona,
  4. have a simple idea sketch to express the concept visually, and
  5. sum up its essence in a snappy title (typically up to five words).

Once the team has designed their idea concepts, we try to develop them further by probing how to add even more value to them. Eventually, an innovation project team typically exits the Development stage with a portfolio of 25-40 fully Developed Idea Concepts.

Evaluation: Find your top ideas with the highest value potential

“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong,” said Richard Buckminster Fuller. In the Evaluation stage, all developed idea concepts get evaluated to understand their pros, cons, and interesting aspects. Then, you make a pre-election of which of these Evaluated Idea Concepts you move forward in the process — and which ones you kill. (So that’s also why we do not kill any idea in the prior two creative stages, Ideation and Development, knowing that we have an entire stage following (the Evaluation stage) where we kill ideas as a normal part of the creative process flow).

All promising concepts that survive this pre-screening get enhanced, and some might get also prototyped. At the end of the Evaluation stage, we have a handful of Elected Top Ideas that we feel are beautiful and that we move forward into the final stage of X-IDEA.

Action: Transforming a top concept into a tangible innovation

Ideas not coupled with action never become bigger than the brain cells they occupied,” noted the American businessman and author Arnold H. Glasow. At the beginning of the Action stage, the project team works on creating a convincing idea pitch for each elected top idea. Depending on how convincingly the value potential of the top ideas was pitched, it is either killed or the team can secure a budget to implement the now Funded Top Concept.

Then, an idea activation team is formed to work on transforming the idea into a Tangible Innovation deliverable — a new product to be shipped, a new service to be launched, a new customer experience to be staged, a new process to be implemented, a new brand to be launched, or a new business model to be executed, among others. Finally, it’s time to give everyone on the team, including yourself, a pat on the back and celebrate your innovation success, thereby remembering the words of the American novelist Mark Twain: “A person with an idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”

Conclusion: An idea evolves and expands as it moves through the creative process

“Idea can no more flow backward than can a river,” noted the French writer Victor Hugo correctly. And just like it cannot be unthought, an idea flows forward through the creative process flow. So, take some time to let your ideas grow in harmony with the flow of an effective innovation method like X-IDEA. until they transform into a beautiful innovation.

  • When would now be a great time to let your ideas (and those of your innovation project team) flow and grow with X-IDEA? So why not book an X-IDEA Training Workshop to learn how to grow your ideas in line with the flow of our know-how of wow? Or even better, let us guide you through an X-IDEA Innovation Project to help you produce a tangible deliverable for an innovation challenge you want to pursue.
  • Get some ideas on what we could innovate together with you by checking out how we worked with and helped other companies.
  • How else can we support you in delivering on your innovation agenda in 2023? Contact us and share your project ideas with us and get a free consultation session.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2023.