Ideas in Space (2) - creation or exploration?

 In Ideas in Space (1) we came to the conclusion that, using a dimensional approach to innovation, we might think of ideas as already existing in a metaphorical space, rather than being created or generated.  

Why is this useful?  It's obviously fun and satisfying in a brainstorming session (in a group or inside your own head) to feel that you're bubbling with ideas, that they're being born inside you and spilling out onto a whiteboard.  And that process and feeling is very valuable.  In the same way, it's valuable within an organization or community to encourage ideas to bubble up organically ( through crowdsourcing and social media, for example) and then collect and filter them for useful innovations.

Nevertheless, there might be some reasons for applying a different metaphor.  For example, we might particularly want to find less obvious and even hidden opportunities.  The creative process might uncover some of these, but it's unlikely to uncover all of them without rigorous and proactive guidance, because the "generative" faculties in all the participants are shaped by what they already know and feel.  Ideas that bubble up tend not to travel too far from their source.  Whoever you invite into the process will have their own existing framework.

Leveraging an “idea space” metaphor, for example, we might think of an “area of opportunity” as a large but bounded space that is filled with unknowns, a thickly forested territory that has many hidden features.  There are mountain ranges and steep valleys, fog-bound cliffs, caves and underground lakes.  Like Lewis and Clark, we want to traverse the space, but more than that, we want to rigorously explore the territory and uncover hidden opportunities, that is, ideas which have remained undiscovered because they have been blocked from view by assumptions, fears, unfamiliar and even alien qualities.

A linear journey across such a space is unlikely to show you everything ... what about all the features over the horizon to left and right of your route?  Starting your journey from your current position is also a handicap ... the other side of the space might be so distant that you'll never get there by walking step-by-step.  Instead, we might want to think of ways to ...

  • Helicopter to distant locations and start exploring from there (fictional scenarios)
  • Exit the area of opportunity entirely (seriously consider something entirely crazy) and re-enter the area from a different direction (outsider perspective)
  • Identify mountain ranges and drill through them (unpacking objections)
  • Climb to the top of a mountain and look around (high-level perspective)
  • Teleport to the opposite side of the territory (flip assumptions along a particular dimension)

Thinking of the challenge of coming up with new and unexpected ideas as "exploration" rather than "creation" prepares us for the inherent difficulty of the task and encourages us to invent new mental processes that will transport us to unknown territories.