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VOL. 128 | NO. 174 | Friday, September 06, 2013
Graber Atkinson

Michael Graber & Jocelyn Atkinson

Ideation Different Than Brainstorming

By Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber

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As a critical phase of any innovation project, ideation brings the generative possibilities to life. While there are similarities with traditional brainstorming, there are also some key differences. Let’s explore both in this column.

Both brainstorming and ideation are processes invented to create new valuable ideas, perspectives, concepts and insights, and both are methods for envisioning new frameworks and systemic problem solving.

Both can be useful in every type of business, in the nonprofit world, and in the public and social sectors. Both fall in the category of creative processes, though in fact they both are creative and scientific, just not linear.

Ideation and brainstorming share some ground rules (generate as many ideas as possible, do not classify them at this stage as good or bad, one conversation at a time, for example). They share some exercises, such as Worst Idea Ever, leaving your day-job role out of the room, clustering and more. They share many similar rules, courtesies, tactics, exercises, methods and objectives.

Ideation, however, is not merely an eloquent variation of time-tested brainstorming. While brainstorming uses a variety of exercises to unlock new thinking about old subjects – and follows a trajectory of immersion, incubation and insight generation, ideation is more visionary in nature, seeking to see and discern solutions for problems that are not yet defined in many cases.

Ideation also uses a variety of method to reframe the fundamental mental model of a subject – think of seeing the same thing from different lenses – in order to see if anew. The concept of Sprints also stimulates ideation session and also helps focus their intended scope with the parameters of time. Many of these sprints have built-in methods of building upon other ideas and concepts inherent in the process.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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