The Innovation Mindset and Idea Generation

By Jonathan Silk

Innovators are people and innovation is the outcome of a process. Innovation starts with an idea that grows into a solution. After defining the problem based on ethnographic, human-centered, research it is time to ideate and generate ideas. To get to those ideas innovators need to be in an innovative mindset and generate as many ideas as possible building a body of work to evaluate later. Evaluating each idea as it comes up wastes time and can stifle creativity.

Ideation works well when we try to make another idea look great by adding to it. We can always try and look smart by saying how it wouldn’t work but that approach does not support rapid idea generation. We need to switch from generating and evaluating ideas to generating as many ideas as possible, and then evaluating them at a later time based on specific selection criteria.

In an ideation session where there is one person in charge, there is an expected outcome, a destination. The group leader is in control of where the group is headed. This does not allow for wild turns in the conversation or for people making new connections that can grow into new and innovative ideas.

In a team ideation session where no one is in control there are no experts. Because no one is in control there is a very good chance the team will get to a place they never expected, BIG NEW ideas.

One technique for ideation is to use an improvisational technique borrowed from the improv group Second City and highlighted in the book “Yes, And.” The Stanford Hasso Plattner Institute also known as the “” uses this method in the design thinking courses they teach.

This technique is a way to build on the ideas of others. It keeps us in an innovative mindset by forcing us to actively listen and understand while we wait for our chance to respond, which enriches and broadens our perspective. As ideas are being generated they should be captured on something like post-it notes or easel paper so they can be organized later.

Below is a video of an ideation session from my experience at the Notice how the group builds off each other. The topic is how to get kids to eat vegetables.

Ideation sessions can be powerful learning experiences that end up with bold, new ideas that could lead to breakthrough solutions.


Jonathan is an entrepreneur, innovator, experienced leader, and coach with a proven record of leading and developing others to perform at higher levels and improve their overall effectiveness. He has a passion for learning and developing others to improve as leaders. Jonathan brings lessons from over 25 years of experience leading in U.S. Army Infantry, Cavalry, and Armor units in a wide range of assignments, to include leading soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. He is a decorated veteran and a recipient of the General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award. Jonathan served as a faculty member at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY before transitioning from the Army in 2015. He is a certified Executive Coach and operates his own leadership coaching business. Check out his website here:

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