Creative Thinking

by Jayne Cormie

Processing ideas

The creative process does not end with an idea. It starts with one! The process also involves evaluating all the ideas you have generated and then deciding which ideas to eliminate and which ideas to develop.

This is usually described as a rational process and, as such, tends to be a core strength of the digital thinking style.

There are several techniques for evaluating and selecting ideas, the best of which are described below.

Sleep on it

This is perhaps the most effective of all the techniques. It involves putting your ideas aside for a period of time in order for your subconscious brain to incubate, nurture and develop them. It is easy to get caught up in the moment following a successful and productive brainstorming session and end up wasting energy on an idea which may have seemed good at the time. However, many ideas don’t seem so great the next day and it might be that a less obvious idea will emerge as a winner.

Dot voting

Dot voting facilitates the quick and simple selection of new ideas.

  • Provide each member of the team with 10 coloured sticky dots.
  • Each person allocates one sticky dot to the 10 ideas they like the best.
  • The idea with the most votes is the idea to select for further evaluation and development.

The six thinking hats

The six hats thinking tool was created by a leading pioneer in the field of creativity, Edward de Bono. It has wide application but is particularly useful for guiding the idea evaluation process by stimulating the different types of thinking. Use each hat in turn to think about the merits of each of your ideas:

Idea evaluation matrices

If you have a lot of ideas from a creative process, you can look at them using a simple evaluation matrix. It is best to use some generic overview criteria initially to find the winners, and also those that could be winners if they were recycled back into the creative process. Following this initial evaluation, you can then use a more detailed style of evaluation matrix to compare the winners (see below).

Consider these three initial criteria.

  1. Acceptability: The degree to which the idea is acceptable to the organisation in terms of performance, risk and the consequences.
  2. Suitability: The extent to which a proposed idea fits the business strategy
  3. Feasibility: The ease with which the idea could be implemented. Time, effort and resources are all important considerations.

The ideas which score highest on suitability, acceptability and feasibility are possibly the best ideas – the ones which can be implemented with a relative degree of ease. However, do not discard the other ideas just because they score lower on one or more of the criteria. Think about how you can improve and develop the idea in order to make it score more highly.

Further evaluation

Once you have a list of the winning ideas, you need to do a comparison of those ideas against much more detailed criteria than the three used above, and also you will probably need a scoring system with more than the three levels of low, medium and high.

As an example, consider the following matrix to compare designs of a new product.

Across the top you would have column headings with quite specific criteria that you need to use to evaluate the ideas, and you can have as many of these as you want. In fact, just coming up with a useful and complete set of criteria is a brainstorming job in its own right.

Down the side, you would have all the ideas you wish to compare. It can be useful to set up this evaluation matrix on a spreadsheet.

In the cells, use a scoring system, perhaps from 1–10 or even 1–100. It is easier to put all the scores in each column in turn, than to do each row in turn. In effect, you are ranking each of the ideas against a specific criterion.

Manufacturing cost
Environmental impact
Raw materials available
Customer appeal
Total score
Idea 1
Idea 2
Idea 3
Idea 4
Idea 5
And so on            

The final right hand column is where you can total the scores for each idea. If you are using a spreadsheet, you can apply a weighting to each criterion so it has a proportionate affect on the total score, and also sort the final column into ranking order.

This format is a very useful way to present a comparison of the ideas in a report which can then be used as the basis for discussion.