Four tips to prevent innovator’s block

How to get the ideas flow? What if the others think our idea is lame? What if we fail? These are some of the reasons why people struggle with innovation and I have also find myself pondering these same questions.

“Ideas stand in the corner and laugh while we fight over them.” -Marty Rubin

I started my Master’s Degree Programme in Customer-oriented Service Development with master class of Practical Design Thinking  facilitated by two inspiring specialists, Design Professor Katja Tschimmel and Innovation consultant Gijs van Wulfen. The theme of the course was to get into the concept of Design Thinking, test different design thinking tools and the FORTH-innovation method in a concrete case. In this post, I’d like to share some of my findings from the class. I have summarized them as the four things to remember during the ideation process.


note1The importance of preparation

Comparing some of the best known design thinking models Tschimmel (2012) presents in her article it is clear that the first step to take before ideation is to understand the customer, identify the problem or the opportunity and observe them to get inspired. She concludes that these insights are important for later idea generation session. According to van Wulfen (2013) the reason why brainstorming process don’t bring up any ideas is the lack of preparation. It’s all about getting new ideas from exploring ”customers relevant future problems”.

I must admit that it was hard to produce ideas without deeply understanding the concepts or the problems behind the given topic. And I cannot deny that the lack of preparation had an negative effect on our whole innovation process.

note2Don’t evaluate the ideas when they’re fresh

My personal view is that evaluating slowed down or maybe even blocked our ideation process. We should not have worried how to turn the ideas into reality, at least not in this phase. Tschimmel explains that in a brainstorming session emotions and intuitions more important than rational thinking and you should came up with lots of ideas without discussing or thinking them through.

Therefore try not to look forward and think the solution or how to implement the ideas, just focus on the ideation process and let your ideas flow without the fear of criticism. There is no doubt that negativity kills the creativeness. A point worth of consideration is that van Wulfen argues you should not brainstorm at the office but in  an environment where you can feel safe to be yourself.


note3Your rough sketches are good enough

Tschimmel writes that visualising and early prototyping is one of the main characteristics of Design Thinking. Visualising thoughts clarifies ideas which may help discovering new aspects. It seems to me that our group used too much time on thinking how to present ideas. Tschimmel points out that the drawings don’t need to be sophisticated. Even a simple rapidly executed freehand drawing can be a powerful tool to explain the idea and make it tangible and concrete.

I’d say that try not to focus on how it will look. Try to think sketching as a tool to visualise your thoughts and clarify ideas, you are not expected to present fine art.


note4Uncertainty is part of the process

As stated by Tschimmel you need to feel comfortable with uncertainty and you need to understand that mistakes and failures are important elements in Design Thinking. This is supported by van Wulfen as he argues that one of the reasons why people struggle with innovation is uncertainty. We fear failure and that our ideas will seem unfeasible and ridicules. Also Lockwood (2009) argues that in the design thinking process often the goal is to fall quickly and frequently so that learning can occur.


In other words, quit worrying about how everything is going to turn out. You must accept that uncertainty is a part of the process and it can be uncomfortable but if you relax it will be easier. My opinion is that don’t overthink it too much, just go and have fun. It is agreed that fun promotes good results and this can be done with playful aspects of sketching or model making.

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.” – David Ogilvy


Ways to stoke (and kill) brainstorming – Dilbert by Scott Adams










Written by Anni Kujala

Lockwood, T. 2009. Design Thinking. Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience and Brand Value.
Tschimmel, K. 2012. Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation.
van Wulfen, Gijs- 2013. The innovation expedition – a visual toolkit to start innovation.

2 thoughts on “Four tips to prevent innovator’s block

  1. Thank you for your insights, Anni! It really was an inspiring class to take.
    I really enjoyed your blog post and liked the way you had divided your experience into four sections and shared your own thoughts. The comic strip was also fun and very current.

  2. Great blog post Anni! You have managed to sum up the most vital aspects of design thinking, in my opinion, in a fresh and exiting way. The lack of deep and genuine understanding of the “problem”, we were supposed solve, made the whole process very hard at least in my case.

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