Why a Flaw in Design Thinking Leads to Dull Ideas

Why a Flaw in Design Thinking Leads to Dull Ideas

When you “brainstorm” for ideas with a team, do you typically deliver conventional ideas that —if you’re honest— you could have got without dedicating extra time? Well, the reason you ended up with these ordinary low-hanging fruits doesn’t mean that you and your teammates are not creative. Rather, it means that you used an ineffective process — if you used a process at all.

Most innovation process methods don’t allow you to move beyond the “obvious” ideas — the ones everyone else in your industry also thinks of first — because they use only one creative process stage. Today, let me explain how you can move from ordinary ideas to extraordinary ideas by adding a second creative stage to your innovation process.

The unspoken problem of most innovation processes

Most innovation process methods have only one creative process stage. For example, the classic Creative Problem-solving (CPS) model labels this creative stage “idea finding”; the models of Bragg & Bragg, Clegg & Birch or VanGundy call it “idea generation”; and the popular Design Thinking method names it “ideation”. In all these process methods, this sole creative process stage is directly followed by a stage used to critically evaluate the ideas and select the best ones for further implementation.

“That’s precisely how we always do it, too”, you may be saying. “So what’s wrong with that?” Well, you’re likely to end up with a low number of ideas that are all safe, sane and set.

What causes the problem?

When generating ideas, innovation project team members are supposed to follow four ground rules of ideation suggested by Alex Osborn, the famous advertiser and inventor of Brainstorming and other creativity techniques:

  • #1. No killing of any idea. Defer judgment.
  • #2. Go for idea quantity as it breeds quality.
  • #3. Shoot for wild, crazy, funny off the wall ideas.
  • #4. Combine and improve on ideas.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to comply to these four ground rules if your innovation method has only one creative process stage. Why?

Why using one creative stage isn’t enough

If idea generation is going to be followed directly by evaluation, how likely are you adhere to all ground rules of ideation? Quantity over quality, no idea too wild or crazy?

Most probably not. It’s highly likely that your inner voice of judgment dismisses any wild idea the very moment you think it — and you won’t write it down. As such, you end up with fewer ideas overall — and most of them are ordinary or even boring.

There is another problem related to using only one creative process stage: Suppose that against all odds, you had really mastered all your courage to adhere to the ground rules of ideation. If there were only one creative stage, would you be likely to select any wild idea for further in-depth evaluation?

No way! You would kill all wild ideas right at the beginning of the critical evaluation phase, as you regarded them as useless to resolve your innovation challenge.

Interestingly, a wild idea is often the seedling of a truly outstanding idea. That’s why we need to have two creative stages to make an innovation process really work and move beyond the same set of conventional ideas.

The solution: Move from one to two creative stages

Thinkergy’s X-IDEA innovation method is designed to move beyond conventional ideas by introducing a second, distinctively different creative stage, Development. In X-IDEA, the creative process flows as follows:

  • First we investigate the innovation project case in the Xploration stage to gain novel insights into what our real challenge is.
  • Then, the first creative process stage, Ideation, emphasizes idea quantity. Here we make an effort to produce hundreds of raw ideas (including many wild and uncommon ones) in a playful, fast and furious atmosphere.
  • In the second creative process stage, Development, we take our time to transform idea quantity into quality. Here it’s our job to design and develop a smaller portfolio of two to three dozens of novel, original and meaningful idea concepts.
  • Next, we evaluate the pros and cons of our idea concepts in a critical and realistic stage, Evaluation. Now we’re finally allowed to judge our ideas, but not before.
Finally, we take Action on those ideas that we selected for real-life activation.

How exactly to does the second creative stage work?

In the Development-stage, we Discover, Design and Develop to turn idea quantity into idea quality:

  1. First, we Discover intriguing ideas within the large portfolio of raw ideas generated during Ideation.
Then, we use these intriguing ideas to Design realistic idea concepts through refinement, combination and transmutation.
  3. Finally, we Develop these designed concepts further by looking for ways to add even more value to them.

Just like during Ideation, we also must follow four ground rules in the Development-stage. While ground rules #1 and #4 stay the same as before, two rules are changed compared to Ideation to reflect the altered objective of the Development stage:

  • Rule #2: Go for quality, and take your time.
Rule #3. The more meaningful, the better. Shoot for valuable, useful, realistic, meaningful idea concepts.


A creative process can unfold its magic only once it consists of two creative stages. Continue using a conventional, ordinary innovation process method with one creative process stage if you only want conventional ideas. Or switch to an unconventional innovation process method with two creative process stages (like X-IDEA) if you want to get unconventional, extraordinary ideas.

Contact us if you want to learn more about how the two creative stages of X-IDEA may help your innovation teams to make the leap from ordinary to extraordinary ideas.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 

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