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More ideas means better ideas, says WeTransfer’s Ideas Report

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WeTransfer Ideas Report 2019; illustration Neil Dvorak

WeTransfer has published its second annual Ideas Report, following on from last year’s inaugural research study into idea generation, and this year delves into the next step – how and why these ideas are developed. The company surveyed a whopping 20,000 creatives from almost every country and analysed the responses to decipher four key insights. The headline finding is around the amount of ideas you need to find a good one, and the answer is… a lot.

Most people (72%) end up using less than half of the ideas they have, says the report, and nearly one in five people use less than 10% of their ideas. WeTransfer goes on to suggest the more ideas we have, bad ones included, the more likely we are to strike gold. In his editor’s letter, Rob Alderson explains the theory and scientific research behind this phenomenon:

“It’s helpful to think of creativity as a two-step process. The first step is idea generation… The second step is to evaluate the pool of ideas you have and select the ones you want to work on.”

“Back in 2009, researchers from INSEAD and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School wrote a study called Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Ideas. They divided students into different groups and challenged them to come up with ideas for new products which were then scored on a quality scale for how innovative they were.”

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WeTransfer Ideas Report 2019

“Their findings were pretty definitive. The group that had more ideas had better ideas. This makes sense – the bigger the pool you have to choose from, the more intense the competition and the higher the standard of ideas that get through to the next stage. As the authors of the report put it, the five tallest people in a city of one million people will be taller than the five tallest people in a city of 10,000 people.”

“But the researchers also noted the importance of variance, which is the range of ideas across the quality spectrum. As they write, ‘the extremes are what matter, not the average or the norm… In most innovation settings, an organisation would prefer 20 bad ideas and one outstanding idea to 21 merely good ideas.’”

Other sections of the report dissect different stages of the development process, from how to figure out what path to take, to distractions that inhibit their flourishing. For example, WeTransfer asked, “How do you figure out if an idea is worth pursuing?” and a confident 30.7% responded “I just know”; while a more pragmatic majority of 46.5% said they based this decision on research, and a brave 5% gauged reaction on social media.

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WeTransfer Ideas Report 2019

The survey also investigated, “What do you ask yourself when thinking about bringing an idea to life,” and the responses offer interesting and probably familiar insight to the creative brain. 52% said they ask “Is it original”; 40% ask if it’s timely and relevant; and 27% ask if it will make the world better, before they embark on evolving an idea. Other popular responses referred to finances, for example whether the idea would make them money, or whether they could afford to do it at all. Others considered personal impacts, for example whether the project would teach them something new, or even make their life better.

There’s also some “fun facts” discovered in the research – for example in China, 20% of respondents said their partners get in the way of their creativity.

The full report can be explored here.

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WeTransfer Ideas Report 2019