Day 6 – Arrrrrgh

The world would probably be (almost) perfect if all products worked the way the respective innovators imagined.

Unfortunately – or perhaps thankfully – the world is not quite so perfect. This allows you to continuously improve products. Observe your customers interacting with your products.


Start with the consumer friendliness of your products or services. Here, too, you can refer to goods or services from your immediate private environment, should you not be active in a company. Ask yourself the following questions to further develop your own products:

  1. What inconveniences are there when purchasing our products?
  2. What inconveniences are there in the use of our products?
  3. What inconveniences are there in the disposal of our products?


Try to explore the problems with your customers in conversations. You will find that you quickly reach certain limits here. You will gain other – perhaps more interesting – insights by observing your customers. Whenever the user of your products hesitates or curses during the handling, you have discovered a dimension in which you can improve your product.

Generating ideas

In the exercise above, you generated ideas for improvements to existing goods and services through observation. Here, it is important to keep in mind that you will get different inspirations for innovations through observation than through questioning.

If we now ask ourselves where the ideas come from, then you probably suspect that ideas for new goods, new services or new production processes can come from a number of different sources. In addition to employees as internal generators of ideas, a company can benefit highly from external idea generators such as customers, suppliers, competitors, consultancies, universities, and so on. The concept of ‘Open Innovation’ highlights the possibilities of systematically using external sources of ideas (Chesbrough 2003, Chesbrough 2006a, Chesbrough 2006b) and was already mentioned there when it was about going beyond the boundaries of the company.

Regardless of whether employees or external actors are used to generate ideas, different methods are recommended, which are briefly presented in this section. These methods are referred to in the literature as creativity methods or techniques.

Basically, for the quality of the results of any creativity technique conducted in groups, it is crucial that the participants receive an intensive briefing about the problem and detailed additional information about the context of the problem.


Brainstorming is the most classic creativity technique. It is one of the intuitive-creative methods whose goal is to overcome conventional thought patterns. The aim is to develop a large number of heterogeneous ideas on a given topic as spontaneously as possible. In brainstorming, ideas are generated through free, verbal association within a group. The focus of brainstorming is to trigger an avalanche of ideas in each member of the brainstorming group. Ideas are not expressed anonymously but openly discussed within the group; picking up ideas from other group members and varying these ideas is explicitly desired and should be encouraged by the presenter.

Brainstorming can be used in situations where a wide spread of different ideas is required. The variance of ideas is clearly in the focus here; the highest possible number of ideas ensures this. This requirement is certainly given in the innovation process, since the quality above all also the originality of the ideas depends strongly on the quantity of ideas generated.

At the beginning of a brainstorming session, the moderator introduces the topic of the brainstorming session and – if the participants have no brainstorming experience – the rules of brainstorming.

In general, there is a strict separation between the idea generation phase and the idea evaluation phase. In the idea generation phase, no criticism is made of ideas that have been expressed.

Quantity is more important in the idea generation phase than the actual quality of the ideas. All ideas should be included.

Brainstorming encourages the free flow of participants’ imagination. This requires that all participants can express ideas without restrictions. Ideas from non-experts and ideas from experts are equally important.

Brainstorming in a group is teamwork. Combining ideas that have been suggested and encouraging each other are important for the quality of the ideas. In the idea generation phase, all ideas presented are recorded. Depending on the brainstorming experience of the group, this phase should not last longer than 30 minutes. In the following idea evaluation phase, the ideas are evaluated and selected for the first time. The idea selection methods presented by Schwarz et al. are suitable for this phase (Schwarz et al. 2006, p. 89ff). If you have one, then this is the interface to the first gate of the stage-gate process.

The figure below summarizes the organizational requirements for a brainstorming session.

TimeDuration depends on the problem and the flow of ideas. The brainstorming session ends when the moderator cannot motivate the participants to come up with any more ideas. Approximately 30 minutes is the guideline for brainstorming.
PersonsA group of 4 to 8 (max. 12) participants with different professional backgrounds.
Presenter/moderatorA moderator is required.
Materials Flipchart, whiteboard or presentation board to record the ideas.

Method 6-3-5

Like brainstorming, the 6-3-5 method is an intuitive group method. It goes back to Rohrbach (Rohrbach 1969). In contrast to brainstorming, here a written statement of ideas takes place.

A group of six participants collects three ideas on forms in five minutes each. The structure of the form is illustrated in the following figure. After five minutes, the form is passed on so that after 30 minutes, each participant has a completed form with 18 ideas in front of him or her.

Formblatt Methode 6-3-5

During the idea generation phase, the group members inspire each other through the ideas they write down. This enables the formation of connections and analogies. During the idea generation phase, there are several changes of perspective or point of view when looking at the problem.

Another advantage of the 6-5-3 method is also that each group member is implicitly asked for an idea-quotient by a requirement of 3 ideas per five minutes. This ultimately guarantees a high volume of ideas (6*3*6=108 ideas), which can be accessed later during the idea selection. Finally, the efficiency of the 6-5-3 method also lies in its structure, which requires only 30 – although intensive – minutes for idea generation.

The rules presented for brainstorming also apply to the 6-5-3 method. It is important that when writing down ideas on the form, a short keyword-like style is used in the context of the flow of ideas. Reasons for each idea will not be recorded. As with brainstorming, it is forbidden to make judgmental comments on ideas that have already been written down.

TimeA total of approximately 60 – 90 minutes, of which: 6 x 5 minutes for the idea generation phase (30 min).
Persons6 participants
Presenter/moderatorA moderator is not necessarily required.
MaterialsForm (6x), writing utensils.

Morphological box

The morphological box belongs to the methods of systematic structural analysis, whose goal is to break down an initial problem into smaller subproblems and provide a solution guide for them.

The goal of the morphological box is – for example for a product development – to find new combinations of given features. Although the morphological box does not actually develop new features for future products, the new combination of old features represents a creative achievement. The method of the morphological box is thus also classified as a creativity technique.

By using matrixes, the morphological box enables a systematic approach to the problem, creates orientation and is particularly suitable for new combinations of already proven solutions. It is particularly useful when a product is to be further developed or improved and it must be ensured that all relevant aspects or features have been taken into account.

The process of analysis with the help of a morphological box is divided into five steps:

At the beginning of the analysis, the underlying problem is systematically analyzed and defined in detail.

Then the parameters or the subproblems are defined. These are entered in the first column of the matrix (see figure).

Subsequently, all potential solutions for each of the subproblems are collected in the matrix. As indicated above, it is not necessary to develop new possible solutions in the case of the morphological box. Also a listing of already existing solution possibilities is necessary and helpful for the generation of new total solutions.

Determination of combinations: Each possible combination of individual characteristics or possible solutions of the subproblems represents a solution. Numerous solutions result. The more dimensional a problem is represented, the larger is the solution space. In the example in figure 5 there are 5*4*4*4 = 1,280 possible solutions. The solution space can be reduced by an in-between step that removes impossible combinations, i.e. mutually excluding solutions of the subproblems. For large problems, a software can be used to support and display the solution space (Ritchey 2006).

In the final step, different combinations are checked to see whether they produce meaningful links. These can then be developed in a stage-gate process.

The figure below summarizes the organizational requirements for the morphological box technique.

Morphological box – organizational requirements:

TimeThe time required is between 30 and 60 minutes. However, this can increase significantly for higher dimensional problems.
PersonsThe method can be used alone or in groups.
Presenter/moderatorNo need for a specially trained moderator.
MaterialsPaper and writing utensils. Supporting software is available for high-dimensional problems.

If you are interested in this method, you can find a good and detailed description at Morphological Box.

Semantic intuition

In the method of semantic intuition, by recombining terms or words and the associations linked to them, often astonishing connections are made, which can then be used as ideas for new products. Semantic intuition uses the fact that reading and hearing words triggers a semantic idea.

It is then particularly useful when solutions to very specific problems are not being sought, but a variety of ideas is required. The method is particularly suitable for generating new product ideas. The method is not suitable for finding analytical solutions to problems. It is therefore an intuitive method, just like brainstorming or the 6-5-3 method. 

Semantic intuition – Organizational requirements:

TimeThe time required is between 30 and 60 minutes.
PersonsThe method can be used alone or in groups.
Presenter/moderatorNo need for a specially trained moderator.
MaterialsPaper and writing utensils. For groups: Flip chart, index cards.

In semantic intuition, terms from the context of the problem to be worked on are first collected and noted down. This can be done in a brainstorming session. For the further steps, nouns are the most suitable, therefore the collection of terms should primarily target nouns. Combined nouns, are broken down into their components (e.g., “football” is broken down to “foot” and “ball”).

The step that characterizes semantic intuition is to randomly combine these collected terms into new word creations. All new word creations are noted down. In the following discussion, it can then be analyzed whether and how the word creations represent ideas for new products.

For example, a production company is looking for ideas for new kitchen and dining accessories (Schlicksupp 2004). Terms from the “kitchen/dining” environment are spontaneously collected: Stove, lid, steam, knife, plate, mixer, potato, plate, grater, mug, cool, cupboard, colander, … These terms are freely combined. Suggestions arise from the combinations: Stove-mixer: a mixer with heat to enable certain mixing processes to take place at a higher temperature. Grating lid: a pot lid with extended functions, e.g. with a grating point for nutmegs. Cooling plate: a serving plate for cooling desserts.

The amazing results of semantic intuition can be traced back to the fact that the process of product development and naming is inverted. Usually, a product is developed then a name or description is sought for it based on its characteristics. This procedure is turned upside down by semantic intuition. From the naming, potential properties of the product are then drawn. The creative process is triggered by the confrontation of the group with thematically suitable – because generated from the problem field – but undefined words.