Ideation: Definition and Meaning

ideation definition ideation meaning

What’s the definition of “ideation?” The meaning of “ideation?” As Voltaire reminded us, “If you want to converse with me, define your terms.”

So, what is “ideation”?

Ideation Definition

According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “the act of forming or entertaining ideas.” However, as a definition within the larger new product development process, that’s not overly helpful.  And if we look to popular culture to understand the ideation definition, we’re likely to be even more lost.

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For example, there was an older IBM television commercial in which a company leader walks into a meeting room. But instead of the chatter of a corporate presentation, the only sounds are new age music. Instead of sitting around a conference table, dozens of employees are lying on the ground. Each has an individual mat and neck pillow. Assembled in perfect rows, they look like a puzzle for which one might ask, “What’s wrong with this scene?” You’d think they were in a yoga studio except for the corporate casual attire, and mind-numbing fluorescent lights.

Perplexed and bemused, the leader asks, “What are you guys doing?” A confident brave soul answers, “We’re ideating.” The leader replies, “I-dee-what?” The commercial ends with the tagline in bold letters, “STOP TALKING. START DOING.”

IBM designed this commercial to resonate with those who believe ideation to be a feel-good, new age, trendy waste of time. These employees need to stop this ideation business and start working! Unfortunately, this view confuses the matter around a very serious business process, the process of generating ideas. This brings us back to the core question, “What is the ideation definition?”

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Simply, ideation is a process for generating new ideas. Does this seem the same as Merriam-Webster’s take, “the act of forming or entertaining ideas?” It’s not the same at all. Not in the context of new product development. The word “process” is important here. Sure, we can just come up with ideas along the way during our normal work lives – and we do – but as a business, we must optimize ideation as a process, not leaving it to chance.

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When we truly understand the ideation definition, we respect it as a serious business process. (But it can still be fun!)

Ideation Meaning: Optimizing a Process

The definition is just the beginning. What about ideation meaning? The IBM “ideation” commercial reminds us of what we’re up against: a corporate mentality that doesn’t understand the true ideation meaning. However, on the other hand, everyone at the of the firm respects the importance of new product ideas. Therefore, there’s a lot of common ground to be celebrated. And here’s even more common ground, the value of a process.

A process is something we do over and over. By virtue of its repetition, its something we can improve. We can analyze and tweak it. Moving forward for ever better results. And therefore, it should be obvious that this means there are better and worse ways to execute ideation.

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Beyond the Definition and Meaning: Improving Ideation Results

While we begin with ideation definition and meaning, we ultimately want results! To improve, we must ensure that each business unit has access to internal ideation subject matter experts.  Along the way, we improve our chances when we provide training. You can likely find great candidates amongst product management, marketing, and engineering. After all, ideation is part of the problem-solving process. And therefore, take advantage of the many key roles that will benefit.

As a starting point, the aspiring SME should read about the founder of the brainstorming concept, Alex Osborne. Osborne is one of many advertising men who made great contributions, although not intentionally, to the world of product development. Next, Blueprinting practitioners will find all they need to get started within the New Product Blueprinting curriculum. It’s covered within Step 6, Brainstorming.

We can really expedite our journey to competence by using the services of a specialized ideation training firm. For example, Dr. Min Basadur’s Simplex program easily plugs into innovation systems such as New Product Blueprinting.

Click here to learn 12 Rules for High Impact Ideation

However, as Lao Tzu taught, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In this case, the “single step” is first understanding the ideation definition. And second, it’s to understand that while ideation can certainly be fun, it’s also to be taken seriously as a powerful component of a company’s innovation program.