What Are IDEAs Made Of: Bad IDEAs

Mike Rea

IDEA Pharma

Great ideas come from structured ideation. ‘Structured ideation’ may sound like an oxymoron, like ‘educational television’ or ‘pop punk’, but it is the presence of structure that both provides a focus for ideation, and allows an evaluation of which ideas are best. Great ideas are designed to be great. There is a view that innovation processes should be unstructured, held in rooms with odd-shaped chairs (or no chairs) and primary colours, that ‘blue sky’ is somehow preferable to whiteboard. That is not a view shared by companies that live and die by innovation. If it is true that you get what you measure, any ideation process should be careful to ensure that what gets measured is what matters.

There is such a thing as a bad idea – there has to be, so that there can be a better idea, and a best idea. Ideas have edges. Once captured, an idea has substance – some things are now inside the idea, and some are outside: it can be evaluated, iterated, communicated and made better.

This is why it is impossible to innovate when you don’t know the subject area, why generic ‘innovation companies’ can’t innovate in pharma. If you don’t have a way to understand the value of the idea you just came up with (is it different, differentiating, feasible, etc?), you don’t have a way to ideate properly. Ideation is not simply ‘coming up with ideas’ but developing ideas that have a chance of delivering real value.


“Ideas also usually come from thinking hard inside the box (it’s a better place to start than outside…).”

A great article on Wired.com shows how the presence of constraints helps the design process. “But for all that we can’t do in this static medium [the printed page], we find enlightenment and wonder in its possibilities. This is a belief most designers share. In fact, the worst thing a designer can hear is an offhand ‘Just do whatever you want.’ That’s because designers understand the power of limits. Constraint offers an unparalleled opportunity for growth and innovation¹.”

Designers understand the power of limits. Musicians understand the power of a rhythm section that provides framework for real ideation and improvisation, Formula 1 engineers the power of a set of rules that try to ensure conformity.

Ideas also usually come from thinking hard inside the box (it’s a better place to start than outside…). Inside that box is a neat-looking little bundle – your product and its value. Teasing that bundle out, stretching it out until the whole value chain is revealed, also reveals sources of opportunity to ideate. Adding insight and detail into the Value Chain is a core component of companies such as Apple, Starbucks and Boeing, whose ideation process (a version of Design Thinking) looks for ideas that differentiate more than just the product. For example, Apple and Starbucks know very well that the actual performance of their products (the intrinsic value) is only a part of why people keep coming back, so focusing on extrinsic value ideas (service, added value, brand associations) enables a bigger, better, brand construct to emerge, with greater overall differentiation and customer value.

Rather than look for great ideas randomly, structuring ideation around insights into differentiating attributes, environment and audiences allows a focused, productive, designed idea to emerge as the best of all the ideas possible.


1. http://www.wired.com/culture/design/magazine/17-03/dp_intro#ixzz11WyCUOuq

About the author:

Mike Rea is a Principal with IDEA Pharma, who enjoys taking a look outside the industry to learn how it can think differently. For direct enquiries he can be contacted on mike.rea@ideapharma.com and for more information on IDEA Pharma please see http://www.ideapharma.com.

How many of your ideas come from structured ideation?