Creativity Mixed with Science = Great Ideas

Creativity Mixed with Science …How to Generate New Product Concepts

This is the 3rd article in a series on New Product Development. The first two can be accessed either in NHIOnDemand archives or on In this article, we focus on the 3rd step in product development: Generating Concepts.

Core PROBLEM leads to solutions

If we ask enough questions, especially “why” questions, we eventually get to the crux of the consumer issue. Asking more questions, like “how?”, and “what about?”, and probing into what consumers are jury-rigging in their kitchens and medicine cabinets to create work-arounds, often leads to potential solutions. Doing sufficient market research is imperative, and can be conducted in many different ways, to meet different objectives and different budgets. Sometimes we use social media to uncover trends and issues, other times we’ll use conventional research, either primary or secondary, sometimes domestically, but often, internationally, to understand how consumers are dealing with the issues every day. As we go through the actual ideation sessions, we keep our eyes on the original problem, while not being afraid to document interesting ideas that might solve a different issue.

The PROCESS matters

A solo entrepreneur sitting in his office is less likely to come up with the next great idea than is a cross functional team. Better yet is to bring in a trained facilitator to run the process. Regardless of what innovation company you use, market research into key trends, regulatory issues, and consumer insights is in order. These all function as a foundation to build ideas upon.

Our typical sessions start with homework assignments for all participants, followed by the actual ideation/concept generation phase. This is typically a 2-session process, allowing for time in between (from overnight to several days) for brains to percolate and develop the ideas further prior to the second session, where we form defined concepts that are ready for evaluation & testing. We collectively look at the market research gathered in the homework stage, and study what our target consumer is buying in different categories and in different countries that might apply to our situation. My colleague, Dave Siegel ( ) has a technique that he uses where he leads participants through an unconventional process of imagining what the future might look like for a shopper…leading to some surprising and unconventional results.

PEOPLE make a difference

Gather a diverse group of individuals, ideally 5 – 10 in the group, including a top management representative. Diversity in function, age, interests, nationalities, and life-experiences will lead to richer, more creative ideas. Tom Kelley, in “The Ten Faces of Innovation”, describes how IDEO values and hires a very diverse group of employees. It is that diversity that, while challenging at times, also allows each of us to look at a problem through very different lenses, and come up with better ideas collectively.

Finding a company that can work with you through this process and help you generate new product ideas that will not only meet consumer needs, but fit YOUR culture, your strategic objectives, risk level, and budget is one of the keys to success in this all important 3rd phase.

Published: NHI On Demand June 2011