Ideation and creativity make your business future proof

For every business it is important to invest in innovation in order to stay relevant. According to the S&P 500, the average lifespan of companies is shortening. This has to do with all kind of trends such as technological, customer, competition and societal trends, and is crucial for an organisation to take into consideration. Companies actually need to constantly re-invent themselves to stay in business.


Look in the mirror. Is what you see the same as what your customer sees? An interesting statistic from Bain & Co shows that 80% of all CEO’s think that they provide an excellent service to their customers, but only 8% of the customers agree with them. If we think about value proposition and the business model, it is important to look at this through the eyes of the customer and understand the customer benefits and risks when using the products or services of the organisation. Important criteria for a sustainable business model are that it has to fit with the (future) needs of (potential) customers, it has to be distinctive and unique from the competition and competitors must find it difficult to replicate. One insight can change everything!

From business challenge to design challenge

To be future proof, it is crucial to detect key trends in the industry and understand what value firms can provide. Simple yet effective creative techniques can be applied. These were presented to the MaastrichtMBA participants during a session on ‘User Centric Ideation and Applying Creativity Techniques’, provided by Carmen Vonken, project leader at UMIO’s Service Science Factory. This ideation and creativity session was one of a series of five provided by the Service Science Factory around Design Thinking. The sessions allowed participants of the MaastrichtMBA programme to experience all stages of the innovation process.


Albert Einstein once said: “If I only had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and five minutes finding the solutions.”


Usually we are inclined to jump to conclusions and think of solutions fast, without challenging ourselves and questioning ‘is this really the problem or are there underlying things that cause the problem?’.

The power of the ‘How might we’ question

So, before we start designing the solution, we must be sure that we are solving the right problem. Design thinking starts with the person, the customer. This is what is called Customer Centric Design. The first step is to create a customer profile in order to prioritise pains, gains and jobs to-be-done. Then you can use the How Might We (HMW) question methodology. This is a very powerful tool to fuel creativity and allows you to think of totally different solutions. HMW questions are framing questions: how might we assist the customer to relieve a pain, create a certain gain or support them in jobs to-be-done. The way in which this question is framed is very important and relies on knowing why the customer thinks a certain problem is a frustration point. An important rule is that the HMW question should still leave space for multiple solutions.

Finding the right balance

A design challenge facilitates creativity. For a new proposition you need to define the boundaries and for an existing proposition you need to explore the boundaries. However, if you are too specific, there is no room for creativity and if you are too open, there is no criteria or context to start ideation. So it is important to find the right balance. By adding design criteria such as budget, time frame, the technology that we should use to your design challenge, on top of the HMW questions and customer perspective, you will be able to find the right balance.

Everybody can become creative

There are many ways to stimulate creativity. It is something that can be developed. Creativity is all about mindset (being open to creativity), competences (developing your skills) and conditions (influencing your content). These three elements are needed in order to boost creativity in your organisation. The most successful organisations, with regard to innovation and creativity, have a structured process of ideation. Another important thing is that creativity and innovation should be something in which the whole organisation is involved; it is not something that should only happen in the management, boardroom or the innovation team. It is important to bring in multiple perspectives in ideation sessions. The people who actually work with customers can bring in valuable ideas as they experience what the customer finds frustrating.


Thinking tools to push your mind

Divergent thinking is a great tool for creating new ideas. The goal of divergent thinking is to push your mind to think of something else; to think in options. The most important rule when practising divergent thinking is to postpone judgement. Generating ideas is as least as important as choosing ideas.

Associative thinking is another thinking technique that is often used. This technique is about creating combinations. You link your organisation, your product or your service to something else. For example, to a certain trend, a movie, an animal or to a technique.

Lateral thinking is basically bending or breaking rules. Lateral thinking pushes yourself to think outside of the boundaries you set earlier. Either in limitations or in possibilities.

After having practised these three different thinking techniques, you can create synergies and make a first analysis of your ideas. This is the point where you can actually start to judge a little. You can combine some ideas into a bigger concept and create synergies between different ideas.

Get all creativity out

The next step in the ideation process is collective thinking. Parallel thinking enables every voice in the room to count. It stimulates creativity more than competitive thinking, where the loudest voice counts. Sometimes people are hesitant to share their ideas in a group. In order to get the creativity out, first let people write their ideas down and then give everybody the opportunity to share. This makes people feel psychologically safe to share their ideas.

Don’t get too attached to your first ideas, strive for more options. Maybe ideas can be combined with each other into a bigger concept.

The last step is to start selecting the idea you want to move forward with in a structured way, for example by using an idea-ranking matrix.

Creative mind boost

Finally, the idea needs to be concretised further. This can be done by making a value proposition, which moves into the next step of the Design Thinking process. You can find out more about this in the upcoming article on Prototyping and Business Models.



This article was conducted in cooperation with the recently launched UMIO – Prime platform, an initiative of UMIO | Maastricht University and the Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics.

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