People can improve the quality, originality, and elegance of ideas by extensively forecasting the implication of those ideas during the generation phase.  Researchers from The University of Oklahoma studied the effect of forecasting on idea evaluation and implementation planning.  In the experiment, 141 undergraduate students were asked to formulate advertising campaigns for a new product.  These campaigns were evaluated by a panel of judges.  Prior to formulating the campaigns, participants were asked to forecast the implication of their ideas and the forecast the effects of a plan for implementing their best idea.

As part of the experiment, students received a hypothetical email from the “vice president of sales” for this new product.  They received this during the idea generation phase of the project.  In the email, he directed the students as follows:

“I hope all is going well on the IMPACT project.  The deadline is nearing for the release of the ‘IBC IMPACT’, and I am curious to see what you have come up with for the new advertising campaign.  Please send me a preview of your ideas and strategies.”

“To be more specific, I want to know why your chosen campaign strategies will resolve the issues that I outlined in my first email (e.g. target desired demographic, lasting impact with demographic, retain vintage look, etc.).  I am mostly interested in your predicted results if these plans are actually set into motion.  I am fully aware that there may be downsides and potential problems with any strategy used, so include these (if any) in your descriptions.  Tell me how you think your current plan will play out down the road.  Visualize this advertising campaign unfolding into action and describe that scene to me.  I would like to know the consequences of any action that we might take, and other factors that could potentially influence the campaign.”

Students who mentally imagined the “down the road” effect of their ideas most extensively produced the best ideas.

For innovation practitioners, educators, and consultants, the implications are clear.  The use of mental simulation can improve innovation effectiveness.  Mental simulation should be used to cognitively “walk through” the steps of the idea generation process.  It should also be used to cognitively predict the implications of those ideas.  Given that some people are better than others at extensive forecasting, innovation facilitators need to have scripted directions for the work group on how to extend their thought processes about future events as a way to boost originality in ideating.

Byrne, C. L., Shipman, A. S., & Mumford, M. D. (2010). The effects of forecasting in creative problem-solving: An experimental study. Creativity Research Journal, 22, 119-138.