How does an idea come about

LEAD Innovation Blog


Three quarters of the ideas do not arise in the company. People are especially creative and have flashes of inspiration when they are in a relaxed or inspiring situation, for example in nature, while traveling or simply at home.

The findings of Fueglistaller have little valuable implications for innovation management. If you send employees home to get ideas, hardly any manager will want to hear. But something important already shows how strong the influence of the environment is on inspiration.


Employees are the most important source of ideas

Employees are the most important resource for generating ideas. You are close to the processes, products and customers, know them best and can also discover potential for improvement and innovation. It is essential that they retain the necessary vision and do not become operationally blind.


According to a study by Scheer, other important sources of ideas are customers and users. Especially when it comes to new products and services, the impulses from users and decision-makers about their needs and requirements are the most valuable impulses for innovations.



The underestimated role of employees in open innovation

But employees also play a very important role when it comes to ideas from external sources (open innovation). Because they are the interface between the external idea providers and the internal innovation process. They collect external impulses and transfer them into ideas. You enrich the idea with the necessary internal context knowledge in order to refine an idea that is relevant for the company. And they ensure that external ideas can dock in the innovation process by developing, submitting and pursuing them.

For example, an employee learns about a problem with the customer. He researches, speaks to the customer concerned and a customer describes a possible solution idea. The employee takes up the idea, refines it and discusses it with the responsible product manager. He picks up the idea, takes it to the management meeting, where it is released for the innovation process and the innovation project starts.

The example shows that the role of employees is also very important in open innovation, but is often underestimated. A company will not get ideas from customers without committed employees, even if dozens of suggestions and potentials lurk there and just need to be taken up. Therefore employees, especially those with contact to customers, suppliers and partners, have to be sensitized and motivated and given the necessary tools to chase and cherish ideas.


Let ideas happen

Alexander Fleming, who studied bacteria in London's St. Mary’s Hospital in the 1920s, inoculated a culture medium plate with staphylococci, put it aside and went on summer vacation. When he returned, he discovered a mold on the culture medium and the fact that the bacteria had not multiplied near the fungus. That was the discovery of penicillin.

This principle of the accidental discovery of something new that was not originally sought is called the principle of serendipity. Other famous examples are the discovery of America or the invention of Viagra.

Companies cannot rely on the fact that where new and innovative things are created or discovered by chance. The process of finding innovations must be systematized. Nevertheless, companies have to work on the framework conditions so that flashes of inspiration can strike and ideas can flourish. Important measures are, for example, the following:

  • The best ideas come from more than one head. Therefore, the exchange and communication between employees must be promoted, e.g. through open office structures, meeting areas, meetings and workshops, etc.
  • Creativity is also encouraged through training and information. New knowledge inspires and in turn generates new ideas.
  • An important point is of course the positive culture of innovation, where ideas are welcome and driven forward with commitment.
  • And of course it also requires structures such as an idea management system where ideas can be introduced and processed.


Systematically produce ideas

The activation and promotion of the continuous production of ideas by the employees offer many opportunities and starting points for solutions, improvements and innovations. A potential that definitely cannot be left unused.


In addition to this, however, ideas must also be systematically developed. If “letting ideas happen” is mostly spontaneous and not very thematically focused, it also requires a strategic and targeted production of ideas in accordance with the goals and topics of the innovation roadmap. This is where the famous creativity and innovation methods come into play.


Generation of ideas with creativity techniques

According to the study by Urs Fueglistaller, only one percent of ideas are created using creativity techniques. This may also be due to the fact that the masses do not use creativity methods. But if you are looking specifically for a problem solution or a new product, creativity and innovation methods are best for you.

The most popular method is brainstorming. A group collects ideas together, either on cards, whiteboards, flipcharts or with an online tool. There are four important basic rules to be observed:

  • As many ideas as possible in a short time (quantity over quality).
  • Everything is welcome. The more unusual the better.
  • Pick up ideas and develop them further.
  • No criticism in the brainstorming phase.

Brainstorming is a very common and popular method. Nevertheless, she is also increasingly exposed to criticism:

  • The dominance of individuals can lead to others holding back and not contributing their ideas.
  • You are under the influence of others, ideas are unconsciously adapted or discarded.

To escape these group dynamic processes, online brainstorming tools can be an alternative. These offer many advantages, e.g. the simple documentation and further processing of the ideas, but still they cannot compensate for the advantages of face-to-face cooperation.

Other popular and proven creativity methods are 6-3-5, the Osborne checklist or, for advanced users, TRIZ. Further methods for innovation development are crowdsourcing, the LEAD user method, focus groups, design thinking or the blue-ocean method.


Conclusion - where do ideas come from?

Ideas arise anytime and anywhere. An organization literally just has to open its hands and catch them. The employee is always the central actor. Framework conditions, culture and structure should promote the generation of ideas and effective processing. However, the generation of ideas should not only be left to chance, but should also be systematically searched for and developed in accordance with the strategic goals.


  • Fueglistaller, Urs: Creativity and Innovation - Where ideas arise and how they are transformed into innovations, 2005
  • Scheer Report: Innovation in Focus, 2015