Ideation Thinking Prompts

Expand the imagination during ideation and helping everyone bring their best.

Ashley Ann
3 min readMar 15, 2023

As a facilitator during any ideation there’s a fine line that I have to discern– when do you leave things vague and open so that creativity can really abound, and when to give people some practical handholds so they can keep ideating?

The fact is framing and anything you share will create guardrails. For instance, “How might we make a better vase?” will generate very different ideas from “How might we help people enjoy flowers?

There are 2 directions you can go about when leading people through ideation.

1. Lean towards open creativity

You can just set people free with 20-30 minutes to play with some encouragement. “You are creative! Let out your inner child!”

For some, that will be heaven. Others will panic, stare at a white sheet of paper or set of sticky notes, leaving them feeling defeated and shrinking back the next time they’re asked to ideate.

2. Lean towards structure

Provide a discrete question and specific thinking structures, such as the ideation thinking prompts below.

Ideation Thinking Prompt

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a long enough one to keep most people chugging and ideating for quite awhile.

  1. What if money were unlimited?
  2. What if we had 100 full-time staff?
  3. What would make a headline on local newspaper? What about a national one?
  4. What if there was no technology? How would we do it?
  5. What if we had one month to make this happen?
  6. What would you do if you were in charge?
  7. What do you think the problem is? What if that wasn’t the problem? What could another problem be?
  8. What would disrupt everything in the short term, but be good for the long-term?

9. Try a mind map

10. Get and move! Go walk

Mind Map example

How to use the helper sheet:

Find out what the people are like in your ideation:

  • How do they identify themselves — do they generally think they are creative or do they claim that’s for other people?
  • How practiced or familiar with ideation are they?
  • Can they play in the open or would some structure help them bring their best selves?

If have anyone that falls into the “I think I’m uncreative” or “new to ideation” space — provide the thinking prompts to help them bring their best.

Happy Ideating!

What other tips do you have for successfully leading people through ideation?

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Ashley Crutcher is the Director of Experience Strategy at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, crocheting/knitting, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.