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Ideation Week - What the heck is ideation?!

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The Intel Ultimate Engineering Experience has officially taken off – and is actually in the process of beginning its wind down! We launched activities in 6 locations and our students are weighing in on their experiences. You heard from our AZ Student, Tamara, earlier this summer and today we’re bringing you a post from one of our Oregon participants. Michelle Kantor is a 32 year old wife and mother of two. She is currently pursuing a BS in Electrical Engineering Technology at Oregon Tech in Wilsonville. An energetic and outgoing person, Michelle is looking forward to helping shape the technologies of tomorrow, and have fun while doing it!


Ideation is, for all intents and purposes, a made-up word -- an apparent mash-up of “idea” and “creation.” Why then was I sitting here with 50 other up-and-coming engineering students of various disciplines, ignoring the short lived August sun to study a word Webster would not approve of?

In short, ideation is more than just another way of saying creative thinking. Ideation is the infrastructure for a thought process that continually challenges you to find another angle, perspective, or approach. Ideation leads to the creation of other seemingly made-up words like “gamification” and “freemium” by systematically analyzing not just what people do, but why. As the air conditioning worked double time to help us forget summer and its lure, CJ Phillips, a microchip designer for Intel in Austin TX, enthusiastically laid out our map for the ideation process. We started with a bang, and the pace kept up fast and furious. On Day 1 we found that in true ideation style we wouldn’t just be entrepreneurs, we were going to be social entrepreneurs working to solve a social problem. Social problems like increased high school dropout rates and a rise in teenage pregnancy. Real challenges plaguing our local community. Oh, and we weren’t allowed to come up with a solution yet.

On Day 1 we identified the problem we wanted to tackle. On Day 2 a flurry of sticky-notes flew into the air as 50 minds set to the task of brainstorming how to make our problem better. When we hit a wall a new round of stickys when flying as we tried reverse brainstorming; by asking what would make our problem worse, then turning around and asking how to fix the problem’s problem. At the end of Day 2 we were given a double axis graph and we used this to find the best way to reach the most users and gain the maximum impact.

Now we finally had an idea and were ready to find a solution, but with one warning: we needed to fall in love with our problem not our solution. As entrepreneurs, if we fall in love with one solution we can miss out on the most creative way to actually solve our problem! CJ went on to explain that the ideation process was systematic so he handed out a map and another double axis graph for crafting our possible solutions.

On Day 3 we were ready for the next step of the process in ideation – creating a business model as creative as the solution we found. By identifying users and customers, and crafting a unique benefit proposal for each segment, defining your relationships and expectations for your segments we were able to see where the revenue opportunities lay.

It was Day 4, our final day, and we had two more steps left: the prototype and the pitch. Once again we were given a systematic way to approach our unique solution including focusing on what sets us apart from other offerings that already exist, our “secret sauce” of sorts. We were told to make it personal, tell a story, and most importantly anticipate what kind of questions may arise after our incredibly brief three minute pitch. For example if the meat of your presentation focuses on why your solution is unique and why it will work, have an additional fact sheet that’s data heavy, including how you’ll make money and stay in business, to hand out at the end for them to look at later.

While crafting our pitch and creating our prototype I realized something: this mock presentation had meat to it! In four short four hour sessions, in between coffee and ice cream breaks, my team had come up with a pretty cohesive plan to get at-risk youth involved with mentors and, more importantly, to give those mentors a chance to connect with each other and, in turn, increase job satisfaction and retention rates. I couldn’t help but think back at the isolation I experienced in my own attempt at mentoring and suddenly the connection of social engineering became real for me. It was possible to have a rigorous business model and make the world a better place at the same time. I didn’t need to be creative only in creating solutions for problems set before me at work; I could get creative about the problem. Our team of five total strangers had managed to pick out our individual characteristics that we excelled in, pick a problem that was meaningful to us all, and craft something that didn’t exist before. That’s when question began stirring: how much could we do if we had more than just four days? What if we did this for a living?