Ideation (creative process)

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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] Ideation can be conducted by individuals, organizations, or crowds. As such, it is an essential part of the design process, both in education and practice.[3]

Methods of innovation[edit]

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, 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 be proven.[4] 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.


The word "ideation" has come under informal criticism as being a term of meaningless jargon,[5] as well as being inappropriately similar to the psychiatric term for suicidal ideation.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jonson, 2005, page 613
  2. ^ Graham and Bachmann, 2004, p. 54
  3. ^ Broadbent, in Fowles, 1979, page 15
  4. ^ "Ideation: The Birth and Death of Ideas". Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  5. ^ Berkun, Scott (7 August 2008). "Why Jargon Feeds on Lazy Minds". Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  6. ^ Thomson, Stephanie (14 June 2015). "Annoying Tech Jargon to Remove From Your Vocabulary-The Muse". The Muse. Retrieved 16 March 2016.

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