That’s all great and fine, but how do we generate all those ideas? Is it just the magic of designers who are endlessly creative? No, diverging into ideas is something everyone can do. When you feel free enough to create ideas, even ideas you know won’t make it to the end, you can do it. Most people just lose the ability, freedom or confidence to do so, but you can regain the capability to dream up the wildest ideas.

Even analytical minds can diverge into new ideas. It’s all about taking another point of view to what you’re doing now. It’s about being self critical, by questioning the obvious answers and by not feeling hindered by any prejudices and preoccupations. In that sense, yes, it’s a state of mind.

Though some regard idea generation as a genuine creative process, there are methods at hand that can help you explore possible solutions. So let me explain one of the many methods for generating ideas.

Golden Circle

Simon Sinek launched the idea of the Golden Circle a decade ago. It can be used to analyze organizations and their purpose in society. But it’s mostly used to find the purpose in people’s own lives and to foster leadership. It’s nearly impossible to explain the theory behind the Golden Circle, but essentially it’s about asking questions about what, how and why you’re doing things:

It all starts with WHY.

WHAT: Every single company and organization on the planet knows WHAT they do.

HOW: Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do. HOWs are often given to explain how something is different or better?

WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. This isn’t about making money – that’s a result. WHY is all about your purpose, cause or belief.

Design Thinking uses the same questions to look at products and how people interact with them. Organizations can use the method for looking at processes, IT systems and ways of working, traditions and uses. But it is quite obvious that to answer the “why” question, we need to be self-critical. Answers like "that’s the way we do it" or "this has always worked in the past" or "never change a winning horse" might be valid in the short term. But in these disruptive times, complacency is not future proof.

The Why question

The Golden Circle of Innovation ends with finding answers to the why questions. And creating new How’s and What’s in line with that answer. When this method is used in Design Thinking, we don’t question the Why’s either. Designers want to create products in line with their user’s why’s. Only when the answers are unethical or against our personal beliefs, we’ll refrain for designing new products or services for that client.

But when you really want to be innovative, you shouldn’t take the “Why” answer for granted. That answer can be challenged too.

When your Why is “offering the best lodgings in town with great hospitality” you still have to react to AirBnb. If your why is “providing the 24/7 taxi service with great reliability”, you’re still going to be challenged by Uber. Having a solid mission statement doesn’t make you less vulnerable.

When you want to create innovative ideas, you should get answers for the “Why” questions first. Because these answers tell you why your company exists, what values and motivation will drive you forward.

As in design thinking, only working from the Why question will help you get the mindset for developing new ideas. From there you can create new How’s and What’s. When I’m doing my projects, I also want to know the why’s of the requirements.

Let me end with one other highly innovative company: Amazon. I don’t know if you know Amazon’s mission statement, but it’s not about selling books. At this moment it is: “Our vision is to be Earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” No mission, a vision. If this is the Why of Amazon, it’s amazing how all their activities are derived from this bold and broad statement.

When you know your “Why” as good as Amazon, the next step is to create a “How” that is innovative, starting the never-ending story of diverging and converging into new innovative products and services.

Photo CC BY 2.0 by Esteban Romero via Flickr