Is it an Idea? Or a Nascent Idea?

Drawing courtesy of Jon Pearson

It’s become clear to me lately that we take for granted the idea of….an idea.

At a recent idea generation session I was conducting a classic Post-It Note brainstorm. Things were flowing and “ideas” were getting out…sort of.

What I noticed on the Post-It’s was that some of the ideas were not even half-baked ideas. Some were one word exclamations, or something. Frankly, it would be hard to call some of the material an idea at all. At best, some of them were nascent ideas. I realize that this kind of chafe is often necessary to get to the wheat. Still, even with coaching to be more specific, lots of what I got was not even a complete thought. In debriefing the session later with my co-facilitator we both agreed that some folks don’t have an easy time expressing an actual fully formed idea. It might be they simply don’t have an idea, or, they were unable to say out loud exactly what they were thinking. Or, they have a poor concept of what an idea looks like.

I believe with training and practice those ideators could become more productive.

It occurs to me that when building up either personal or organizational creativity we ought to step back and look at the concept of an idea. Here’s the dictionary definition of “idea”:

  1. A thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action: “the idea of linking pay to performance”.
  2. A concept or mental impression.

For the purposes of idea generation, if a candidate idea fits either of the above, I’m okay with it, it’s an idea. The action orientation of #1 gives an idea a forward motion. It’s something one could Do. A concept or mental impression is likely to be less useful directly, but if it’s a whole thought/complete concept or mental impression it’s possible to create an action-centric idea from it.

My coaching to anyone idea generating either alone or with others is simply to take that first word impression and expand it into an action. Say you have an idea for a new house design. Hopefully you’d write down at least “new house design” but  please, Not just “design.” That one word is a nascent idea. You might know what you meant — but nobody else would! It be more useful to write down something a bit more elaborate, such as, “new house design using space age materials for maximum efficiency,” “or new house design with a Frank Lloyd wright feel.”

The learning for me in this is simply to say, and think, “let’s have ideas…and if possible, let them be actions we can take.”


PS: If you want to start into more advanced practice, you might consider my book — Jack’s Notebook, a business novel about creative problem solving.

PPS: If you liked this post or found it interesting, please comment, and/or subscribe to this blog, thank you)

    • Gregg: This was a timely post for me. We are deep into workshop development mode on “insight” and it occurred to me, as i read this post, that data leads to ideas. Ideas lead to insight. Insight leads to solution and action. What d’ya think? Feel right?

      • Yeah, and, sometimes an idea is an insight! I could do another post on the difference between ideas and solutions…

    • Adam Hansen

      Gregg: Perfect. It’s helpful to have more ideas with more context *and* to reserve a little room for the inchoate and the impressionistic. Consider expanding the range of fit and finish, and encourage all to be aware of this range – if they’ve been generating only on one end of the range, encourage them to dip into the other end of the pool, if for no other reason than taking a break. The quarter-baked stuff is sometimes where some great inspiration resides, even if it’s a creative misunderstanding that builds on it in a way unintended to the originator. And the more fully baked, more concrete ideas can be fantastic for establishing early option for structuring what moves forward.

      • I agree that you need to allow room for the wacky half-incoherent stuff…it can be inspirational. Thanks for your comment.

Posted in Creative Problem Solving (CPS), Creativity and Self-Expression, Idea Generation