28 July 2021

Solution Ideation

Author/Compiled by
Tandiwe Erlmann (cewas)

Executive Summary

The ideation phase is about the development of new business ideas or the generating of ideas for making business models more viable. In this phase it is important to be as open minded as possible and prepared to work with the unexpected. Being respectful, non-judgemental and encouraging with each other will create the right environment for you and your team to come up with the “crazy” ideas and inspiration you might need to innovate your business model. In this factsheet you will find a selection of tools that will support you in this process of ideating the best solutions for your business.

What do we understand by ideation?

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Ideation stems from the word idea and refers to the process of generating new ideas or concepts. In this particular context, we use the term to refer to the development of new business ideas or the generating of ideas for making business models more viable. If you have already read the other factsheets on analysing your business idea or model and on defining your innovation challenge and objective, it should be clear to you by now that the innovation process does not begin with the ideation phase. Before you can come up with new ideas and solutions, you should first identify and understand the problem, then set yourself general objectives that you want to achieve in your business. Once this has been done, you can move on to ideating new solutions.

Here we have compiled a number of effective tools that will help you look at your innovation challenge(s) from a different angle and hopefully come up with new ways of solving them. For this we recommend that you work as a team as much as possible as this can help when ideating new solutions. Working in teams and bringing together different backgrounds, mindsets and experiences can significantly enrich the whole process. An important thing to remember throughout the entire ideation process (or at least, until you start selecting the best ideas) is to make sure you leave enough room for bold and “crazy” ideas to germinate. Try to avoid shooting down such ideas at the beginning of the process just because you deem them unrealistic or too risky. The more “crazy” ideas you have, the more material and inspiration you will have to work with when moving forward in the ideation process.

Ideation Tools

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Fast Idea Generator 

This tool allows you to generate new ideas by looking at a problem or solution from different angles through the bending, stretching or breaking of the business-as-usual rules. It helps you to critically reflect on current solutions, develop new ideas and inspire further discussions. Again, whether a solution is feasible or not is irrelevant at this point in the process, so go crazy!

  1. Print out one copy of the worksheet per person
  2. Working individually, write down how different aspects of your problem or current solution are handled in a business-as-usual scenario (“normal rule”). For example: Communities buy water.
  3. For each example, think about how you can bend, break or stretch that rule under the 9 different approaches. For example: Inversion (turn common practice upside down) -Communities sell water.

Once everyone has gone through all the 9 different approaches, share your results with the team and discuss whether there are ideas that you wish to take further in the ideation process.

Adapted from DIY Toolkit 2020


The brainwriting tool (also known as 6-3-5 method) helps you further develop ideas in a collaborative way. The advantage of brainwriting – as opposed to brainstorming – is that you can develop new ideas in a structured way without the risk of group members discrediting ideas for lack of feasibility (remember that at this early stage we want to see those bold and crazy ideas regardless of whether they are feasible or not).

  1. Print out a copy of the worksheet for every person (we recommend you complete this exercise in a group of 6 people – if the group is smaller or larger adapt the worksheet by removing or adding rows)
  2. Start off by getting everyone to write down the innovation challenge in the top row of their worksheet
  3. Each person thinks of three new ideas that could solve the challenge. It is entirely fine to jot down crazy ideas! Try not to take more than 5 minutes doing this
  4. Once this is done, each person will hand their worksheet to whoever is sitting on their right. Participants now use the second row to either develop the ideas in the first row or to add another three ideas which are inspired by what has been written already. Try not to take more than 5 minutes doing this
  5. Carry on this procedure until everyone ends up with their original worksheet
  6. Finish off by reading out the results and discussing any interesting ideas or aspects you wish to develop further

Adapted from Board of Innovation, 2020 and Design Thinking Methods Catalogue, 2019

Analogy Thinking 

This tool helps you identify the best aspects of existing solutions from other sectors or businesses and apply them to your own business. Sometimes we don’t need to go as far as reinventing the wheel - mimicking the innovations of other sectors can be as fruitful.

  1. Print out a copy of the worksheet for every person and start by writing down your innovation challenge
  2. Working individually look for two innovative examples (don’t forget to look outside of your own sector too!) and then briefly present them to your colleagues. If you cannot find innovative examples, have a look in the brainstorm cards below
  3. Decide on the three most innovative examples and for each example, note down which aspects/ features make this example innovative
  4. Working individually again, apply these aspects/ features to your own innovation challenge. You might need to build on them or adapt them to fit your innovation challenge
  5. Share results with the group and discuss

Adapted from Board of Innovation, 2020

Brainstorm Cards 

These brainstorm cards have been compiled by the Board of Innovation and they document 52 business innovations from different sectors and another 30 innovations specifically addressing new and emerging market economies. The sources of these innovations are regulation, technology, market and consumer trends. Use these cards to inspire your discussions and exercises around ideating solutions for your own business.

  1. Start by writing down your innovation challenge on a board or flipchart, then print out all the brainstorm cards (just once!)
  2. Hand a batch of cards to each team member and get them to individually go through the cards to find inspiration. If a card doesn’t generate any new ideas within 30 seconds, feel free to go on to the next card!
  3. Share your ideas with the team members and decide which ones you wish to take further

Adapted from Board of Innovation, 2020

Revenue Model Flowchart

The revenue model flowchart has been developed by the Board of Innovation and it documents revenue model innovations from different sectors. It is built up like a decision tree and the corresponding guidebook allows you to explore different start-ups and their revenue models to adapt to your own challenge. 

  1. Download and print the revenue model flowchart and guidebook (just once!)
  2. Go through the decision tree by answering the questions about your own revenue model and note down the start-ups that you end up with. Explore these start-ups and their revenue models in the guidebook
  3. Try to answer differently to the questions and explore new potential revenue model options
  4. Note down any learnings or new ideas and discuss which ones you can develop further or directly integrate into your business model

Adapted from Board of Innovation, 2020

Idea Sketch 

This template allows you to describe your new ideas on paper. By getting your idea on paper, it becomes more concrete and can serve as a basis for refining and challenging it (with or without your team). It also helps you to better communicate your idea to others.

  1. Print out a copy of the worksheet for every person and work individually to fill in the idea sketch by answering all questions
  2. Share your idea sketch with your team and allow time for feedback
  3. Use a new template if you want to describe a newer version of your idea. In this way, you can document how your idea evolves over time

Adapted from Board of Innovation, 2020

How-now-wow Matrix

This tool helps you prioritise and select the best ideas by evaluating their level of innovation and how easily they can be implemented. The easier it is to implement the idea and the more innovative it is, the better.

  1. Print out the worksheet once or draw it on a flipchart
  2. Write down all of your ideas on post-its and place them in the matrix according to their level of innovation and how easily they can be implemented
  3. Everyone has three voting-dots to vote for their three favourite ideas. Ideally, the ideas in the “wow” and “how” fields should have the most votes.

Adapted from Board of Innovation, 2020

Innovation Battlefield 

This tool helps you determine how an idea will be further developed. It helps you make the right decision in terms of which features of an idea to take forward.

  1. Print out the worksheet (just once!) or draw it on a flipchart
  2. Select an idea that you want to develop further and write it down on the worksheet
  3. Working individually write 5-10 features that you think should be a part of this idea/ solution on post-its
  4. Place these features on the matrix based on how much pleasure each feature brings to the customer and how indispensable the feature is
  5. Focus on the upper fields and discuss all features in it with the team. Try to be as critical as possible and challenge each other about the added value of a feature or how easy it is to test
  6. Narrow down the final features to about 6-8 per solution

Adapted from Board of Innovation, 2020

Library References

DIY Toolkit

The Development Impact and You toolkit has been specially designed for practitioners to dive straight into action. Yet the tools presented here are grounded in existing theories and practices of innovation, design, and business development.

DIY (2020): https://diytoolkit.org/ [Accessed: 11.02.2021]

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