5 Ideation Categories to Drive More Productive Innovation Brainstorms

In our experience, the process of generating new ideas for product innovation is more effective when there is a bit of structure to the ideation. We use the following 5 categories, in sequential order, to aid in idea generation:

This model is based on taking the perspective of a defined target audience. Naturally, other perspectives than a given target audience exist (e.g., technologies or competitive framework), but we will not cover those here. Those other frameworks may actually be complementary to our target audience perspective in driving ideation, but are left for another day. In our world, the target audience perspective tends to be the most useful and common perspective for brainstorming around innovation.

1. Jobs to Get Done

Our first category to understand about our target audience is the jobs they are trying to get done within the general category of what we (or the brand, more generically) currently and potentially bring to the table. This includes working through what their mindset is, what they are trying to accomplish, the process(es) they go through to get these jobs done, the resources they use/don’t use, the sequence of specific activities and events as well as their duration, and so on. Ideally, the innovation team is listing these things out in detail, including motivations and contexts.

2. Pain Points

Next, we explore the barriers and frustrations—the things that stand in the way of our target audience getting their jobs done. These pain points can be internal or external, functional or emotional, individual or social/organizational, etc. The point of this exercise is to understand what is preventing or slowing the target audience from getting their jobs done.

3. Hacks and Workarounds

Following categories #1 and #2, it’s time to elucidate what the target audience is currently doing to get their jobs done despite the pain points. This includes all current (as well as potential) solutions to getting the jobs done, though it is important to keep existing and potential solutions distinct at this stage. It may be helpful to categorize existing hacks and workarounds in terms of their effectiveness, efficiency and creativity.

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4. Desired Outcomes

Next, we identify the outcomes sought by the target audience. What are they trying to accomplish? What does a satisfactory outcome look like? How is it measured? This includes things like financial motivations, strategic and tactical objectives, emotional goals, self-expressive desires (i.e., how they want others to see them), and the metrics or performance indicators for all of these. In this category of brainstorming, it is important to look for implicit and explicit motivations. Understanding what goals are driving behavior is critical to the next and final category.

5.Novel Approaches

Finally, working up and capturing the insights across the previous four categories has put your innovation team in the right frame to efficiently and effectively generate ideas for novel solutions. As with all brainstorming sessions, this should be done without regard for feasibility, expense or magnitude of impact; those are all filters that should be applied later so as not to inhibit idea generation.

By adding just a bit of structure to your brainstorming session, your team is in a much better position to hit the ground running based on the fertile ground laid out across the first four categories concerning your target audience. Happy brainstorming!

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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