Ideation (idea generation)

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Ideation is the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas, where an idea is understood as a basic element of thought that can be either visual, concrete, or abstract.[1] Ideation comprises all stages of a thought cycle, from innovation, to development, to actualization.[2] As such, it is an essential part of the design process, both in education and practice.[3]

Methods of innovation

The book Ideation: The Birth and Death of Ideas (Graham and Bachmann, 2004) proposes the following methods of innovation:

Problem solution
This is the most simple method of progress, where someone has found a problem and as a result, solves it.
Derivative idea
This involves taking something that already exists and changing it.
Symbiotic idea
A symbiotic method of idea creation is when multiple ideas are combined, using different elements of each to make a whole.
Revolutionary idea
A revolutionary idea breaks away from traditional thought and creates a brand new perspective. For example, Marxism (an evolutionary form of Hegelianism), or the writings of Copernicus (a development of classical Greek thought).
Serendipitous discovery
Serendipitous solutions are ideas which have been coincidentally developed without the intention of the inventor. For example, the discovery of penicillin.
Targeted innovation
Creating a targeted innovation deals with a direct path of discovery. This is often accompanied by intensive research in order to have a distinct and almost expected resolution. For example, linear programming.
Artistic innovation
Artistic innovation disregards the necessity for practicality and holds no constraints.
Philosophical idea
The philosophical idea lives in the mind of the creator and can never[citation needed] be proven. This type of idea however can still have vast residual effects. For example, the idea of eternal recurrence.
Computer-assisted discovery
This uses a computer in order to widen possibilities of research and numeric possibilities.

This list of methods is by no means comprehensive or necessarily accurate. Graham and Bachmann's examples of revolutionary ideas might better be described as evolutionary; both Marx and Copernicus having built upon pre-existing concepts within new or different contexts. Similarly, the description provided for artistic innovation represents one perspective.

More-nuanced understandings, such as that expressed by Stephen Nachmanovitch in Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, recognize the generative force technical and perceptual limitations provide within specific arts practices.[page needed] In painting, for example, technical limitations such as the frame, the surface and the palette, along with perceptual constraints like figure/ground relationships and perspective, provide creative frameworks for the painter. Similarly in music, harmonic scales, meter and time signatures work in tandem with choices of instrumentation and expression to both produce specific results and improvise novel outcomes.

The T.O.T.E. model, an iterative problem solving strategy based on feedback loops, provides an alternative approach to considering the process of ideation. Ideation may also be considered as a facet of other generative systems, such as Emergence.

See also


  1. Jonson, 2005, page 613
  2. Graham and Bachmann, 2004, pg 54
  3. Broadbent, in Fowles, 1979, page 15