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Four proven ways to rapidly generate ideas

Four proven ways to rapidly generate ideas

By Kim Furman, Synthesis Marketing Manager

It sits staring back at me. Seemingly never ending and always expanding.

The to-do list.

I have a daily list of items that I relish scratching out, one by one, like little villains whose defeat my diary depends on.

We all have things we want to do – from diary lists to grand goals – but so often, year after year, these things remain undone and with this our confidence in our capabilities of doing them.

Many of these things depend on ideas – from how to organise your to-do list itself to how to implement a strategy to an idea that will launch your startup.

On the 18th of August, Synthesis, a software development company, held its annual 24-hour hackathon where teams came together to build different technologies.

Over 60 ideas were generated for the event and 15 technologies were built during the event – proof that fast ideation and creation are possible.

Watching 1 of 15 MVPs at the Synthesis Hackathon

Here are four proven ways to help you rapidly generate ideas from the hackathon:

1.     Just start

At Synthesis, we have a saying, and it is simple. “Just start.”

Another saying fits into this: “There is a time for thought and a time for action. The time for action is now.”

We often get too stuck in our thoughts and too often than not – the same thoughts. Nothing new is generated and the existing problem is not solved. We also get stuck in our fears – of failure and judgments.

When trying to generate ideas, just start. The rest of this list will show you how.

If you wait for inspiration to strike you might wait forever. Once you have the idea and you develop it out, these sayings are still relevant. How will you know when you are finished developing your idea? Ask yourself – is it time for thought or action? What would lead to better outcomes – thinking further or doing? It seems simple but constant thought without action simply doesn’t work.

2.     Quantity over quality

When we asked for ideas that would be built at the hackathon, we didn’t ask for one quality idea from each person.

We used a technique from design thinking. We asked for as many ideas as possible because we know that if we put pressure on quality upfront, no ideas get created.   

I use this method with my team when building a marketing strategy. We all know our objectives – the items we want to achieve in the quarter. Then we start the clock and have two minutes to generate as many ideas as possible that could meet each objective.

(I don’t believe in ideas for ideas’ sake – we generate ideas that lead to our north star. A great idea that doesn’t achieve what you need it to is not a great idea.)

I don’t want quality at the start of my strategy sessions. I want quantity because suddenly, instead of 4 good ideas, I have 10 ideas from each person and 40 ideas in total. Some get put aside but others get developed into quality ideas later.

Perfection and the empty page are crippling but when you know you are aiming for quantity, somehow the fear disappears. Progress beats perfection every time so the next time you want ideas, start the clock and aim for as many as possible.

3.     Keep to tight deadlines

We gave Synthesis employees tight deadlines. Work expands to fill the time given according to Parkinson’s Law. If you give yourself two weeks to generate ideas, you will be done in two weeks rather try for shorter (but manageable) deadlines. Hence, my two-minute rule for initial strategy ideas.

Coding in the early hours of the morning

4.     Generate then discuss

We purposely didn’t ask Synthesis employees to come up with ideas as a group.

First the employees generated ideas individually and then they worked collectively to build them out.

When an idea is put forward, we gravitate around that idea and this limits our ability to create new ideas.

Here is a marketing example: A team is asked to decide how to increase software subscriptions.  Someone suggests a campaign where existing customers get credits to share premium features for three people. The customer gets to share value with their friends or colleagues who the product is relevant to. The company gets exposure to a relevant audience through sharing. 

The ideas that follow this will likely be pinned on that original idea. Suddenly, everyone is thinking about referral programmes, but there are many other ways to increase subscriptions.

The same applies to all ideas. If a group of people are brainstorming a startup idea and the first person shares an idea for an app for new parents that shares answers to the most common questions asked each week of a newborn baby’s life, then suddenly the group may pin their ideas around parenthood.

First, generate ideas and only then discuss and build on them.

And my never-ending to-do list? Generating this article idea and writing it are two items that are now being victoriously scratched off of it.