Still waiting for an idea to strike? Try this instead.

cartoon ideas

“I am not the creative type”

How many times have you heard it from your colleagues? Perhaps you say it often yourself? Good news: you don’t have to be creative to come up with great ideas!

Many business people often justify to themselves that they don’t have the creativity or resources in the businesses to innovate and keep up with the tech giants and revolutionaries. But as research from Jan Recker and Michael Rosemann identifies, not all ideas “require creative genius, a Eureka moment or a lengthy brainstorming session”. Ideation, the act of creating ideas, does not have to be art. It can become a well understood and repeatable process, similar in many ways to what the industrial revolution did to activities which used to be perceived as a craft. Think about watchmaking — it used to be a craft, and it is mostly industrialised now. Can the same happen to ideation or the entire innovation process in an organisation?

Industrialising your innovation can broaden access to innovation and bring predictability to the process. As Professor Marek Kowalkiewicz explains in a podcast with Professor Michael Rosemann:

“Think about this from a management or c-suite perspective, how can they ensure when they need to innovate there are going to be outcomes and they don’t have to rely on a very specific creative individual. What if they leave the organisation?”

At the Centre for the Digital Economy, we do just that — we try to industrialise innovation. We work with organisations, large and small, and we teach the employees, including CEOs and the most junior members, how to come up with business ideas without waiting for creativity to strike. If you cannot join us for any of our sessions, here are some tools you can employ immediately that can help you consciously develop new ideas. These tools allow you to look at your business from a different perspective and come up with new ideas. And because of that, we call them ideation lenses.

Please say hello to our three favourite ideation lenses: Derive, Utilise and Enhance.


Good artists copy, great artists steal. Why shouldn’t we follow this motto when working on new business ideas? Don’t take it too literally though. Just look outside your circle and industry for inspiration. “How would someone else run your business?”.

Imagine if an airline or hotel chain ran your business. Perhaps you would adopt dynamic pricing strategies and loyalty programs? If Google ran your business, your services would be free, but you would collect data and sell to third parties. How would your business look if Richard Branson was in charge? Keep going! How would the Mafia run your business? At this stage, all you want to do is generate lots of ideas. You will assess them later.

Peter Townson / Chair in Digital Economy

We used this lens quite often when we work with our partners. How would Google run Queensland State Archives?


The external focus of the Derive lens is useful when learning from others. But often you can learn and improve by just looking at the potential of what you already have. Remember how your teacher used to tell you about how much potential you have? Now do the same, but to your business (sans the stern look).

This approach requires you to look at the assets in your organisation (human, physical, digital or others) in a new way. Start asking yourself questions you might not have asked before. What else could I do with these assets? How could I use them better?, How could I use them in new ways?

Uncovering such idle assets can mean putting them to good use and maybe creating new revenue streams.

Peter Townson / Chair in Digital Economy

We worked with a large water utility business and identified a largely underutilised asset: customer data. It’s difficult to overestimate how much can be learned from the data about our water use and sewage “production.” The concept we developed, a “smart diagnostic toilet” is worth another article!


Sometimes, instead of looking for inspiration outside, or potential inside, all you want to do is review and improve your current processes. There is space for ideation lenses there too! The Enhance lens focuses on process improvements — how can a process within an organisation be modified, to better achieve its goal?

Processes are often so ingrained in the mindset and culture of organisations that they are considered unchangeable. In reality, some of our everyday processes can be low-hanging fruit for innovation. The Enhance lens gives you a set of steps to follow when reviewing a process. Professors Recker and Rosemann identified a set of such steps, that can be applied almost mechanically when looking at a process within an organisation.

Start with a process within your business and capture all the tasks within the process. Now ask yourself if you can create more value by doing any of the following steps:

· Consolidate — consolidate multiple tasks into one;
· Decouple — split a task into two sequential elements;
· Delay — delay a task (to gain time and avoid early individualisation);
· Eliminate — delete non-value adding tasks;
· Individualise — break up a task into multiple instances;
· Insert — insert a new task into the process;
· Optional — make an element of task optional;
· Push vs Pull — implement the pull or push principle (wait instead of initiating, or initiate instead of waiting);
· Resequence — change the sequence of tasks;
· Replace — replace a task with a more adequate task.

Peter Townson / Chair in Digital Economy

We use the Enhance lens very often when reviewing existing services. We worked with a few government agencies responsible for revenue collection. One of them allowed us to look at their processes and completely reimagine them using the Enhance lens. Learn more about this project.

Listen to our podcast on Industrialising Innovation

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