There are a number of ways for generating great ideas. The key is to create an environment for divergent thinking and most often this is down to the types of questions that get asked.
Every time there will be an underlying theme that can be explored by applying the right levers to get “out of the box”. Typically the theme will be a product, process, service or experience. There may be a specific problem to solve or you may be exploring the landscape for opportunities to add value through change (in a nutshell – ‘innovate’).
One simple option for sparking creative thought is to consider the effects of scale. Exaggerating something by a factor of 10 or 100, say, is quite powerful; especially when applied broadly across multiple aspects of an ecosystem [eg. 10x faster, 100x lighter, 10x bigger etc]. The number is not critical - it’s the step-change exaggeration that counts.
Another powerful technique is to use metaphor or link two normally unconnected concepts, generate new ideas and then see how they can apply. This can be done through deliberate word choice or by random selection. This morning, my wife suggested ‘coffee’ and ‘iphone’ that immediately sparked [WiFi in coffee-shops, protection against spilled hot liquids, coffee connoisseur apps, coffee-bean shaped phone jackets, eco-friendly materials, queue-jumping apps, brain-stimulation, bio-feedback etc]
Notably, there's a lot of value to be had from examining “the job to be done” holistically. The Kaizen (“change for the best”) philosophy from Lean Manufacturing gives us some useful prompts; for example – what can I add, remove, speed up, slow down, strengthen, simplify, reverse, combine, adjust etc? This concept normally looks at the whole value chain and examines equipment, material flow and associated behaviours that converge to create an overall user experience.
Triz, although fairly complicated (and not great for brainstorming), takes a similar approach and codifies a range of typical metrics (eg. shape, tension, power, convenience of use) together with statistically common solutions based on 40 principles (eg . intermediary, asymmetry, self-service).
There are a number of simpler matrix-based approaches. With products, for example, there’s one that combines “catalyst” ideas/questions [I wish…, new material, new function etc] with “seed” themes [eg. change, accessorize, compliment] to provide a navigable structure to the process.
One final method that I have room to mention is simply to ask for the (seemingly) impossible – what if there was no gravity? what if it scavenged power from its environment? what if it was invisible? what if we eliminated the fan?
It is important to remember that, at this exploratory stage, we’re going for diversity of thinking. Later, we can ‘connect the dots’ and converge on something that gives us the right ‘bang for our buck’. Worrying about implementation too early can prevent the real gems emerging.