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Insights | By Howard Tiersky

The 6 Biggest Ideation Mistakes

Your competitors are probably working now to generate new ideas designed to steal your customers away from you and make it even harder for you to win theirs.

If you aren’t generating new ideas, then you’re allowing the competition to get ahead. 

So you better be busy. BUT, some ideation processes are better than others. In fact I’ve worked with companies whose processes were totally broken. Fortunately, broken processes can be fixed because when ideation is not working well, its rarely because you have “bad people” but far more likely you are using bad practices.

The most common issues with ideation are usually not the people — it’s the practices. 

Here are seven big mistakes that companies make during ideation, and how to avoid them.


It’s rare that the best ideas come from a blank sheet of paper. So what should you start with? Here are three key starting points

The Outcome   

The first thing you need to know before you start the ideation process is, what’s the goal of your ideation? Put another way, if your ideation is wildly successful what will be different? Will you get more customers to use your app? Will you have fewer returns? Will you save on postage?

Pre-Existing Attempts

The next thing you need to do before you ideate is, find out, what has already been done to solve this same problem, either by your company or an outside organization.

Knowing what has been tried and succeeded, and what has failed, gives you valuable knowledge going into your ideation process. For one thing you may find the perfect solution already exists and there is no need for ideation. Or alternatively you may find prior failures that provide a seed for a new idea that will work better.

Customer or User Pain

Most ideas are for something which will be used by a human being in some way. Great ideas solve problems for someone—they either provide a solution to a problem previously unsolved or provide a better way to solve a problem current being addressed in another manner. So conduct research to understand the circumstances that your target user will be applying the ideas you generate. 

For example if you have an outcome of speeding up the time it takes for your warehouse to ship out a product after a customer orders it, find out what is holding them back? Why does it take so long? What is the effort required? Once you understand the “on the ground” pain or effort you will probably start almost automatically generating ideas for improvement.

These are three items that can ensure your sheet of paper should never be blank.


The two time Nobel prize winning scientist Linus Pauling once said, “The best way to come up with a great idea is to come up with a lot of ideas, and then throw most of them away.” 

This can be difficult, because once you generate an idea, there’s a natural inclination to want to see it succeed. But, it’s rare that the first idea you have will be successful. 

Be prepared to generate a large number of ideas, and find the best solution for the problem you’re trying to solve. 

The idea that will be the most successful is not always the one you are most proud of. Sometimes, it’s the simple ideas that are going to produce the best outcome.


It’s a mistake to include the same exact group of people in every ideation process. 

There is so much value in mixing it up—include others to gain their unique perspectives and bring fresh ideas. 

Diversity is more than race, gender, and age. It’s important to include individuals with different socio-economic backgrounds, different educational and professional backgrounds, and people from different geographic regions. 

While just maximizing diversity without necessarily knowing how it's going to impact ideation can still yield great results, it’s also critical to target certain types of diversity based on your project.

For example, if you’re building a mobile app, you should probably have people from marketing, and from technology. If you are designing a new SAAS platform for teachers, it may be valuable to have educators, perhaps school administers and even students involved, in addition to your core development team.

4) NOT CHECKING WITH THE CUSTOMER (or other user of your idea)

Once you believe you have a well thought out idea, figure out a quick way to test it with the target users to see if it’s genuinely appealing to them. 

Testing your ideas with customers gives you the insight to fine-tune a winning idea, or discard one that simply fails to resonate with users.

After all, the end user that will be adopting your idea, is ultimately going to determine your success. Don’t make the mistake of not engaging with them to see what works best


Sometimes people ideate the same ideas over and over again, instead of coming up with something truly out of the box. 

While it’s true that in some cases, the simplest ideas are the best, it's really important to also be willing to stretch your thinking and ideation to come up with ideas that are beyond what you would normally think of. 

If you’re sitting in an ideation session, and you have an idea but it doesn’t sound like something your company has ever done before, you might be afraid to share that idea because it’s so different from what you’re used to. 

Fear stands in the way of great ideas being shared. In your ideation sessions, make sure people know that they can share any ideas they have. 

Once you have a long list of ideas to discuss, the group can narrow it down to the best ones together, and they may just decide that your out of the box idea is a winner. 


Did your last idea fail, or did it just not work

The difference is, if you gave up, then you failed. 

But if you tried to accomplish something, it didn’t work out, and now you’re varying it and trying it a different way seeking an approach that works, that’s the path to success

It’s rare that an original idea will work perfectly. It’s much more common to iterate your way to the desired outcome.

In my Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance, I share detailed descriptions of ideation techniques that have worked for my company and many others. You can download the first chapter for free here, or you can purchase the full book here.

Get FREE access to the first chapter of FROM`s
Wall Street Journal Best Selling Book


  • Learn the three patterns of all successful digital brands (including companies like Apple, Netflix and Uber).
  • Understand why many great new products fail, and the formula for building products that won’t.
  • Discover the key reasons companies resist change and how to overcome them.
Get FREE access to the first chapter of FROM's
Wall Street Journal Best Selling Book


  • Learn the three patterns of all successful digital brands (including companies like Apple, Netflix and Uber).
  • Understand why many great new products fail, and the formula for building products that won’t.
  • Discover the key reasons companies resist change and how to overcome them.