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  • Writer's pictureJo Langham

Opinion vs ideas generation: what's the difference?

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

I have spent a lot of time researching creativity and idea generation. I was searching to find something to help prompt new ideas, to stimulate thinking and help people move outside their standard ways of fixing or solving problems. I have been a designer for a long time (too many years to note), I have conducted all kinds of user research, run lots of ideation sessions and have been involved in the development of many prototypes, tools and systems. When I started looking into the software available to help groups and individuals come up with new ideas, I was astounded to find that there were a number of tools that were classified as "idea generation" or "brainstorming" but were actually tools to curate opinions.

Let's be clear: opinions are NOT ideas.

Opinions are your views or thoughts on a topic. Ideas are creative ways to solve a problem, to invent something or to do something new. Ideas fuel innovation. Opinions rarely fuel innovation - they often create divides and make people choose between options or sides of an argument.

I see many idea generation tools claim they help people "brainstorm". What they mean, is that they help people capture the thoughts and opinions of a group of people on a topic. Whilst useful for research (market research often needs to understand the opinions, attitudes and thoughts of a group) - it is not idea generation.

If you see a problem statement framed with "Do you..." or "Should we" - it is a question about an opinion. For example - I saw several recently that were framed similarly asking "Is the Monarchy relevant?" and another, "Does Australia have an obligation to..." These are not problem statements that will stimulate the creation of new ideas. They are opinion questions. These questions ask people to give their opinion on the subject.

A good problem statement will tell you what the problem is and why. I also see problem statements framed in terms of a solution. For example: "How can an app solve world hunger?" This statement is telling you to use the app and to find justification for why the app can solve the problem. An app may be a very bad idea as a solution - but the statement asks you to focus on making a connection that may not necessarily fit. This is also a terrible way to prompt new ideas.

There are also a range of tools that manage the innovation process. That is, they help collect ideas and enable people to work on them, consult and move these into production. They may have some form of idea generation process as part of the tool or platform. But that isn't automatically the case. You may need to use some other technique or tool to help people come up with new ideas. New ideas are not magic. They require work. Just asking people to come up with new ideas and put them in a tool that collects them is NOT an idea generation tool - that is an idea management tool.

Quora is NOT an idea generation tool - it is a question and answer tool. People have questions that they can use to find an answer - not create a new answer. They don't call themselves an idea generation tool. They help people find high quality answers.

Monday is NOT an idea generation tool. It is a work management tool. It helps scheduling and managing workflow management.

Some tools may also be able to be used for idea generation - but are not necessarily "idea generation" or "brainstorming" tools. So for review sites that tend to put these varied tools into the same bucket, please properly categorise your suggestions and tools - by correctly categorising these tools it makes it easier for users to find the right platform to help them reach their objective.

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