Michelle Ferrier

“Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.”
— George Kneller, author of The Art and Science of Creativity

How do you know if your good idea is the next big thing? Whether you are an intrapreneur, working within an existing business, or an entrepreneur looking to create a business startup, or a student creating an idea for a class project, this question is the one that should drive you to find answers. Unfortunately, it is not a question that can be answered on its own. It takes answering a bunch of other questions of your potential customers, of your own motivations, and of your idea as well. Two key qualities required to begin this journey include curiosity and creativity. As a communicator or a student at a mass communication program, you should already possess an innate curiosity about people, storytelling, and problem solving. Creativity is a skill that can be cultivated as an individual or as part of group or team exercises, to develop unusual connections, breakthroughs in processes, or insights that lead to product development. Often, the journey to a good idea begins with asking “What if?”

Ideation is the process of coming up with an idea. It is using creativity and questions like “What if?” to imagine ways something can be done differently. The ideation stage is critical to ensure that you are generating good ideas from the start. It involves seeing problems and opportunities, brainstorming around the problems you identify, and doing research to test your assumptions about the market, your customers, and your idea. Refining that initial idea involves assessing the market, looking at trends, and asking questions (and more questions)—and learning from potential customers, investors, and research whether your idea is a good one. The design process consists of a series of steps to test assumptions and ideas. Ideation falls within a larger design process that begins with understanding who you are serving; empathizing, understanding, and defining the needs of that target audience; then ideating around what is needed (Figure 1):

In the Stanford School Design Thinking Process, there six stages to design[1]:

  • Empathizing
  • Defining
  • Ideating
  • Prototyping
  • Testing
  • Sharing
Represents six areas of design as defined by the Stanford School of Design Thinking Process. These include empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, testing, and sharing. This graphic is of six circles, from left to right, containing the words: Empathizing, Defining, Ideating, Prototyping, Testing, Sharing.
Figure 1. Represents six areas of design as defined by the Stanford School of Design Thinking Process.

According to 2012 research by Harvard Business School instructor Shikhar Ghosh, 75% of venture-backed startups fail.[2] Ideas are like opinions—everyone has one. If the founders of those failed companies could have answered that question as to whether their idea was the next big thing…well everyone wants that guarantee. But entrepreneurship is risky. Startups are risky. You and your team are using your time and your intellectual property (ideas) to create something new. Generating a great idea from the start is part of a larger set of success factors such as the expertise of the founders, the competitive landscape, speed to market, and other factors.

These other success factors include:

  • The composition of the team itself;
  • The execution of the concept. Is the team adaptable, effective and efficient?
  • The structure or business model shows a clear revenue path and immediate revenue stream;
  • The structure of funding; and
  • The timing of the idea and its entry into the marketplace.

What ultimately matters most is not the idea, but the ability of the team to work together, execute and test an idea, and get their idea out into the marketplace. So the ideation stage is about minimizing the risk of failure by coming up with ideas that the world needs or wants. Successful startups begin with a quality idea, one that is novel, encapsulates a “truth,” and will have good barriers to competitors.

Students will often come to me and say, “I’ve got this great idea, but I’m afraid to share it because someone might steal it.” I often coach students that their fear is preventing them from finding other teammates, coaches, potential investors, and mentors. Timing and execution are king; ideas, well, everyone has one. So if you’re hoarding your ideas, you are limiting one of your key assets, which is timing.

Is an idea something that can be protected? Ideas themselves cannot be copyrighted, but original expressions of ideas in a tangible medium can earn legal protection. Review the following resources to understand what can and can’t be protected under U.S. copyright, patent or trademark law.

But what if you don’t have a great idea? How do you practice stretching your imagination to be more creative? And what is creativity anyway? A recent article in the alumni magazine for the University of Central Florida[6] spoke to the entrepreneurial culture that has been a part of the DNA of the institution since its founding as a technical school in 1963. Administrators and faculty from all types of disciplines were asked to weigh in. Michael Pape, Dr. Phillips Entrepreneur in Residence, says creativity is the hunt for an answer to a secret:

“Creativity is a process of bringing something new into existence that challenges prevailing assumptions. It’s fundamental to human existence. To challenge prevailing assumptions, you need to discover secrets.” Pape says “to observe, embrace chaos, and try to frame it into form, you might uncover those secrets in the process.”

Rick Hall, production director for the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, says that creativity is a teachable skill.

“Creativity is really just your ability to associate two disparate ideas in a way that others haven’t thought of before. You’ve got to proceduralize creativity. And never let a good mistake go to waste.”

I once interviewed a student at the University of Pittsburgh who got involved in entrepreneurship because he thought himself to be someone who was creative.

“I always wanted to pursue new ideas,” he said. “It just seemed like the current system is kind of rigid in the sense that the older you get, the more you have to start pruning away some of your ideas and get a more precise focus. And for me, I kind of like things open-ended, and I like to really explore all these ideas that I feel is like part of one big puzzle. And when you put that together, that’s how you get the best products because it draws from a number of inspirations.”

Scanning the Environment

Pape says the creative process begins with observation. As a curious journalist, I am always on the lookout for problems, opportunities and new ideas, observing what is happening around me, listening to what my neighbors are talking about, and what people are struggling with in their everyday lives. And as Hall suggests, we can “proceduralize creativity” by increasing the juxtapositions, the opportunities for the collisions of disparate ideas that might spark the next idea.

As an avid reader and a bit of a science geek, I am always scanning publications inside and outside my field that feature innovations in science, medicine, technology, and journalism such as Wired, FastCompany, and Scientific American. First, I’m learning about innovations and how others leveraged their ideas into businesses. Second, I’m learning how founders adapt their ideas as they learn. Third, I begin to see the world through others stories, experiences, and disciplines that help me to “look afresh” at the world as George Knelle suggests.

Scanning the environment like this is what led me to create in 2015 as I observed what was occurring in social media spaces online and the challenges of women journalists and journalists of color in maintaining a voice online in the midst of targeted online harassment. While the idea began because of my own personal experience and the current news of Gamergate attacks,[7] I quickly validated that this was a common experience among journalists and media organizations. The idea for TrollBusters was validated initially by the response from female journalists themselves at a hackathon. However, we quickly began diving into global scholarly research that further pointed to the scope and scale of the problem we were addressing.

Through deep interviews with women journalists, we discovered a reluctance to report abuses and a lack of knowledge about what to do next after an attack. The interviewees also talked about the lack of support from peers and management. We started by developing awareness campaigns and online courses that made visible what was happening all over the world and helped women journalists take control of their own protection and speak up about the online harassment they are experiencing.

Look to the work of futurists and others who attempt to predict the future of technology, education, manufacturing, and other fields. Amy Webb,[8] founder of the Future Today Institute, examines trends in technology, media, and communications. In her new book, The Signals are Talking,[9] she says there are “signals” that everyone can watch for, beyond what is covered in the technology press. She says “It’s not like there’s a singular source where you would go to find the unusual suspects at the fringe. Instead, it’s a series of guiding questions she uses in her explorations:

  • Who do I know of that’s been working directly and indirectly in this space?
  • Who’s funding this work?
  • Who’s encouraging experimentation?
  • Who might be directly impacted if this technology succeeds one way or the other?
  • Who could be incentivized to work against any change?
  • Who might see this technology as just the starting-off point for something else?”

Then the curious, like Amy, get going. They start asking questions. And reading. And listening.

The New Media Consortium started asking these questions of its employees, who were trying to keep up with the changing technology landscape. They realized that many policy makers, industry leaders, innovators, educators, and others struggled to keep up with technology trends. They started the NMC Horizon Project[10] to chart emerging technologies and their implications for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry. (Note: They have ceased operation, but the reports[11] are still available. Accenture, a strategy and consulting company, creates a technology trends report. Its 2017 Technology Vision[12] report details disruptive technology trends and deep industry knowledge. CBInsights tracks trends across multiple industry sectors including automotive, financial tech, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, AR/VR, and other technology areas.

In the media field, I’ve mentioned publications like Wired and FastCompany that provide a deep dive into media and technology innovations. The Pew Research Center[13] offers deep research into social, religious, technology, and media trends and usage. Other media-focused publications include MediaShift, TechCrunch, Mediagazer, and VentureBeat.

CrunchBase is a database of startups, product development timelines, funding rounds, and other information. Add in subscriptions to online newsletters for the startup and entrepreneurship world like Entrepreneur and Fast Company, Inc. and others to keep an eye out on emerging, competing ideas in the market. Find these types of sources and scour them to cultivate new ways of seeing the world, the first step to creating innovative ideas.

Thinking Creatively With Human-Centered Design

LUMA Institute defines human-centered design: “Human-Centered Design (HCD) is the discipline of developing solutions in the service of people.”[14] Human-centered design (HCD) is being adopted now by more organizations, strategists, and development practitioners and has been taught in places like Stanford’s D-School (Design School).  HCD views people as the core focus of design and development. According to LUMA Institute,[15] which works with organizations seeking to innovate:

“Every story of a good innovation — whether it’s a new product, a new service, a new business model or a new form of governance — begins and ends with people. It starts with careful observation of human needs, and concludes with solutions that meet or exceed expectations.”

When I teach innovation, I separate the Human-Centered Design process into three phases:

  1. Inspiration Phase: Learn directly from the people you’re designing for as you immerse yourself in their lives and come to deeply understand their needs.
  2. Ideation Phase: Make sense of what you learned, identify opportunities for design, and prototype possible solutions.
  3. Implementation Phase: Bring your solution to life and eventually to market. And you’ll know that your solution will be a success because you’ve kept the very people you’re looking to serve at the heart of the process.

Individuals, teams, and other groups use brainstorming and ideation to come up with better ideas — ideas that speed processes, ideas that create new products, ideas that create innovations, and ideas that solve problems. But usually that activity happens in a vacuum —a team sits around a whiteboard coming up with ideas. With human-centered design, inspiration comes through exploration of actual people, their problems, and their needs. So ideation is like an incubator for experimentation. The better you become at asking questions of potential customers and getting them answered quickly, the better you can be at shaping your idea into something that meets a need.

Ideation also involves knowing your outcome/deliverable. If you are creating ideas for a student competition, you’ll want to know the rules and what the judges will be evaluating. Some competitions give you the problem you are attempting to solve. Your measure of success will be in how closely your idea aligns with the competition goals. I’ve often judged student competitions where there are different rubrics. The simplest I’ve used asks founders to ask themselves three questions:

  1. Feasibility: Can we do this?
  2. Viability: Should we do this?
  3. Desirability: Do they want this?
Venn diagram rubric of three criteria often used for judging competitions: Desirability, Viability and Feasibility. Graphic shows 3 intersecting circles. Each circle contains one of the following words: "Desirability," "Viability," "Feasibility."
Figure 2. Three criteria often used for judging competitions: Desirability, Viability, and Feasibility.

The most valuable design sits at the intersection of these three questions and will help guide you in positioning your ideas to meet market needs.

The rubric I developed for an international innovators cup competition provides a good template to use to determine if your idea is innovative:

  • Presentation was compelling, easy to understand, and described the problem and a “fresh” solution.
  • Meets the threshold for innovation. Judges should be guided by the reality that truly transformational innovation is rare. Incremental innovation is more the norm but is equally valuable in our competition so long as it provides an inspired solution to the challenge that has been posed.
  • Takes full advantage of new media tools, platforms, technologies, and applications in use today. These might include things like interactive design, gaming, geolocation-based tools, informational graphics, and all aspects of social media, etc.
  • Addresses the problem within its context. It should demonstrate that it is offering an idea or approach that is supported by facts and/or research and demonstrates an understanding of today’s media and communication landscape, including familiarity with any similar products, apps, or services.
  • Understands possible roadblocks, competition, and need for a sustainable advantage. The solution shows an understanding of the roadblocks that need to be overcome, the competition, and how the solution can be sustainable.
  • Provides a solution that clearly describes its main features and benefits and presents a valid value proposition with the key activities clearly outlined.

I also added this “diversity enhancement” component to the competition questions to ensure student teams thought about and integrated the needs of underserved and underrepresented users/customers/audiences in their solutions.

  • Solution embraces diverse viewpoints, populations, or audiences. The solution realistically includes the potential to expand media diversity, including serving underserved populations:

Later in the chapter, we’ll look at specific team exercises to get your group thinking expansively, increasing the juxtaposition of disparate ideas, and generating ideas that we can test. But first let’s examine the media landscape and see if we can find interesting juxtapositions and questions that can help us find novel ideas.

The Media Innovation Landscape

Media innovation and entrepreneurship brings together journalism, technology, and business to create new projects inside and outside of traditional media organizations. For the media industry, there are significant opportunities in the disruption to business models and technological changes. This seismic shift in the monolithic news and information business has created a landscape that has allowed new forms of journalism and technology to emerge, driven by innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. The report “The Big Thaw: Charting a New Future for Journalism” by Tony Deifell of Q Media Labs[16] details the new competitive landscape for today’s media enterprises (Figure 3).

Four strategic questions frame the new challenges and opportunities for media organizations. The diagram outlines these new & emerging realities. It looks at 4 aspects. 1) New Competitive Landscape: How is the landscape changing? Contents of this chapter outlined are: New abundances; New scarcities; Devices & Convergence; Demographic revolution; Next phase of globalization; Declining control & affiliation; Mirage of The Long Tail. 2) New Sources of Value: What needs can be met, problems solved or desires fulfilled? Contents of this chapter outlined are: Progressive ideas; “My Ideas;” Immediacy; Solving Filter Failure; Conversation Failure; Conversation Economy; Audiences to communities. 3) New Distinctive Competencies: What new capabilities are needed to succeed? Contents of this chapter outlined are: Getting serious about community; Strategic technology; Being multiplatform; Integrating functions; Experimentatlism; Counterintuitive ways of working; Shifting roles. 4) New Business Models: How are media organizations structured to capture value? Contents of this chapter outlined are: Emerging operating models; Emerging Revenue Models; Diversification & tension. 1 and 3 speak to each other, as do 2 and 4.
Figure 3. New and emerging realities from the Knight Commission reports. From “The Big Thaw: Charting a New Future for Journalism” by Tony Deifell. This image is Copyright The Media Consortium. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

As Deifell’s report describes, this disruption can be seen as opportunity. Each of the four areas: new competitive landscape, new sources of value, new distinctive competencies, and new business models presents challenges, questions, and spaces providing fertile ground for new ideas. His four questions challenge us to continue to look to the media industry and communication professions for opportunities by asking ourselves:

  1. How are media organizations structured to capture value?
  2. What needs can be met, problems solved, or desires fulfilled?
  3. How is the landscape changing?
  4. What new capabilities are needed to succeed?

For example, look under “New Competitive Landscape.” The media industry has had to respond to new devices and convergences. Existing companies have had to innovate and design products to maximize the mobile experience for users of their content and products. Think about news apps such as BBCNews[17] for traditional news entities that expanded their existing brand into a new device. We can also point to startups like FlipBoard,[18] a tool designed solely to solve the problem of making reading content easier on a mobile device. Mike McCue, the founder of FlipBoard, says he never intended to start another company after he sold his prior company TellMe to Microsoft. His new company started by asking the question “What if?” that started him thinking about redesigning the web interface from scratch.

The mashup of disciplines and technology yields new forms of media entrepreneurship. The chart from The Big Thaw: Report on New Competitive Landscape, p.11 (Figure 4) shows the new media paradigm that is driving these changes.

Old & New Paradigm    The table has two main columns and eight rows.   The left-hand column title is Old Paradigm.   It then splits into two separate columns below called Mainstream Media and Independent Journalism.   The row below is called Industry Competition. The title is Stable. In the row below Mainstream Media it says Competing against existing commercial players. In the row below Independent Journalism it says Competing against mainstream elites (corporate & government).  The next row is called Distribution limits. The text says Scarcity of information organized around physical distribution limitations. Scarcity of independent voices.   The row below is called Platforms & devices. The text says Distinct platforms for different media (print, radio, TV, film). Limited media devices.   The next row is called Demographics (in U.S.). The text says Majority + Minorities.   The row below is called Geography. The text says National, regional & local. High geographical constraints on production.   The next row is called Institutional control. The text says Greater institutional control, affiliation & trust.   The row below is called Consumer habits. The text says Power Law: more locked in.    The right-hand column title is New Paradigm.   The row below is titled All Media (mainstream & independent converging) Current  Emerging?   The row called Industry Competition contains the title Unstable & rapid. The text below is split into two columns. On the left-hand side it says Competition from all directions. "No more mainstream."     On the right-hand side the text says Fighting against populist hegemony & group-think.   The next row is called Distribution limits. This row is split into two columns. The text on the left-hand side says Scarcity of Attention caused by abundance of info & "filter failures."      On the right-hand side the text says Scarcity of reputation & authenticity (real-name identity). Increasing control of Internet pipeline vs. "Net Neutrality".   The row below is called Platforms & devices. This row is also split into two columns. On the left-hand side it says Convergence of multiple platforms. Device proliferation.      On the right-hand side it says Multisensory convergence & mass mobile-media.   The next row is called Demographics (in U.S.). The text in this row says Majority minorities. Millennial generation: "net native" & different attitudes.   The row below is called Geography. This row is titled Increasingly global & hyper local. Low geographical constraints on production. On the left-hand side it says Rise in non-western values.      On the right-hand side it says Decline of local reporting. Nation-state censorship.   The next row is called Institutional control. The text says People acting free of institutions. People less tied to publications.   The row below is called Consumer habits. The text in this row says Power Law: many fast changing dynamics.
Figure 4. From “The Big Thaw: Charting a New Future for Journalism” by Tony Deifell of Q Media Labs. This image is copyright The Media Consortium. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

It was at the intersection of three disciplines — business, nutrition, and journalism — that I developed the idea for, which won a News Media Women’s Entrepreneur grant of $20,000 from the McCormick Foundation in 2009. The idea — Women’s Community News Franchise — provided the infrastructure—technical, education, writing, publishing, software, and advertising support — to develop online community news and information franchises. Citizen journalists and community members can focus on what they are most passionate about — building their community conversation through good local information and networking.

The business structure for came from the franchise business model of providing services and growing a prototype model. The content topic came from the local food movement that was gaining favor nationwide. Geography and journalism became my way to solve the problem of access to fresh, local food. How could I help people live a local food lifestyle through By providing a website with information about local producers, farmers markets, and timely alerts of seasonal goods, I was able to solve the problem of getting good information about the local produce market to my audiences. I’d found a niche at the intersection of the growing local food movement, distributed networks of content creators, services, and a need for good information.[19]

Defining the Problem Space

Before you design a solution, you need to know what problem you are trying to solve. I often have students who want to create startup ideas that solve a personal problem. One of my students wanted a better way to share music. Another wanted to create a way to earn Boy Scout merit badges online. However, each of these students needs to define the problem space to determine whether their solutions—online education and peer-to-peer recommendations—were really a problem for other people. In other words, is this problem a pain point for just you or are there others? Is there a real problem with a large enough market that needs a solution? To define the problem space, we need to start with a more expansive view of what we are dealing with to determine what might be the best solution.

Remember the three questions we asked earlier in the chapter?

  1. Feasibility: Can we do this?
  2. Viability: Should we do this?
  3. Desirability: Do they want this?

At this point in the process, we are trying to answer the desirability question…Do they want this? So we have to define who is the “they” in this question, and then brainstorm to discover the “this” or solution in the question we want to test. We can use human-centered design to experiment and match our solutions to customer needs at the sweet spot in the center of feasibility, viability, and desirability.[20]

Working the Problem Space

So let’s say you are trying to develop concierge college admissions services. That’s the business you want to create. But what is the problem you are trying to solve? Often, students jump to a solution before diving deeply into understanding the problem space. Who is experiencing pain? Is it painful enough that people are seeking solutions and willing to shell out money?

Stanford University’s D-School has developed exercises for brainstorming and developing ideas. LUMA Institute and are two additional companies that help organizations think more expansively and deliver ideas that meet human needs.

Stakeholder Mapping

Depicts Stakeholder Mapping, “a way of diagramming the network of people who have a stake in a given system.” Quick guide bulleted tips include identifying a subject area, convening diverse collaborators, generating a broad list of stakeholders, summarizing their mindsets, describing their roles, connecting them with lines describing their relationships and circling and labeling related groupings.
Figure 5. Stakeholder Mapping Card. Source: Innovating for People: Human-Centered Design Planning Cards. Copyright by LUMA Institute LLC. Reproduced via single-use permission from LUMA Institute LLC for the purpose of this chapter and its adaptations.

To visualize who is impacted by the problem you are trying to solve, you can use a stakeholder map to get a sense of the problem space, the actors in it, and who your solutions might address.

For example, students in a social media class were attempting to create tools and strategies to reach out to potential undergraduate students for college admissions. Of course, they started with the pain points and perspective of high school students having recently been in the search for colleges themselves. However, by identifying other stakeholders that play a role in the admissions process, the students were able to identify other pain points and possible solutions that addressed parents, admission counselors, and other stakeholders in the map (Figure 6).

A partial image of a stakeholder map representing the problem space of college admissions and enrollment. Sticky notes on a board contain ideas of what types of people and groups could be stakeholders for a potential entrepreneurial venture. Copyright Michelle Ferrier.
Figure 6. A partial image of a stakeholder map representing the problem space of college admissions and enrollment.

To begin, you need stickies and limited drawing ability. Also a large blank canvas of paper.

  • Create small teams of two to six people. Each person in the team gets sticky notes and a marker.
  • Independently, team members are invited to brainstorm potential stakeholders in the problem space. In our example above, we went beyond the college organization to look at the role of parents, high school counselors, government agencies, and others play in the college decision process. Individual work should be given about one minute.
  • Collectively, the team goes through its stakeholders, identifying commonalities and defining the roles more clearly by adding a visual element or a speech bubble to suggest what the person may be saying or thinking. These stakeholder stickies are put up on the blank canvas by consensus of the group.
  • Organize the stakeholders by grouping entities that are linked by geography or processes. Use lines to draw relationships between stakeholders. For example, a line between parents and the financial aid office of a college might be drawn with dollar signs on it.
  • Discuss in the group where there are breakdowns, pain points, and other places where innovation might help to solve the problem. These discussions can then be used to refine who the customer might be for your efforts — students, parents, college administrators, etc. — and who will pay for your solution.
  • Select the stakeholders that you will continue to ideate around as potential customers.
Depicted, Statement Starters, “an approach to phrasing problem statements that invites broad exploration.” The quick guide has bullets including “Identify a set of problems or opportunities. State each issue. Add a “starter to the beginning of each.” Example: “How might we…” Pick the best starter for the problem. Use the new phrasing as the starting point for ideation.
Figure 7. Source: Innovating for People: Human-Centered Design Planning Cards. Copyright by LUMA Institute LLC. Reproduced via single-use permission from LUMA Institute LLC for the purpose of this chapter and its adaptations.

Statement Starters

One exercise, found at LUMA Institute,[21] is designed to ask “What if?” types of questions: open-ended questions that become the jumping point for brainstorming. Sample statement starters include: What if_____? or How might we_____? These statement starters are then attached to the problems you’ve identified in your stakeholder mapping exercise. Brainstorming then happens around the problem you’ve identified.

IDEO has a design kit[22] with many examples.

Other Tools You Can Use

Validated Learning

Eric Ries of The Lean Startup advocates “failing fast.” What he’s suggesting is that teams quickly move through the ideation stage to customer discovery and testing phases, tossing out assumptions and ideas that fail to meet customer needs.


You and your team will engage in a process of validated learning…confirming your assumptions through user testing, research, interviews, or ethnography. You may also build test sites or “smoke tests”—fake websites that walk users through the solution to see if they will pull out their wallet and buy (but don’t use your real domain name for these tests). You may pivot or change ideas after getting feedback or may find yourself back at the empathy stage, gathering more information about the problem space before creating new solutions. The idea is to stay lean and iterate quickly through ideas: build, measure, and learn.

With validated learning, you can test your value hypothesis — the value proposition that you are offering to your customers — or your growth hypothesis, how you intend to scale your company by testing new markets, or types of users. A hypothesis template looks like this:

We believe that ______ will cause [the users] to [do this action/behavior] because of [value proposition].

An example might be:

We believe that an augmented reality shopping app will cause brick-and-mortar shoppers to walk into stores more frequently because of the urgency and proximity of the deals and discounted offers.

Hypotheses are tested using the traditional research methodologies and a prototype or minimum viable product (MVP) of your idea. A prototype is a reduced version of your actual product or service, featuring just key features or functions. Version One of your product has every feature and function that users might need. A prototype can be developed in a few hours or days, while your first full version may take months.

Your team will define the hypothesis, determine how you will test the hypothesis, and assess what you learned from the results. Developers use A/B testing to try two different solutions and see which one gets the best response. This testing might be two different designs of a home page, testing color schemes or even two different solutions.

Before you spend valuable time and money rolling out a product that no one needs, a prototype and idea testing can help refine your ideas and discard or enhance your product or service features.

SWOT Analysis

Once you have identified the problem your group intends to solve, you must ask if another product already addresses it. If so, how? Conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis from the point of view of the competition. (Download a free worksheet.[30]) Do this for each close competitor, large or small, until you clearly identify your niche and are able to refine your target market.

Resources for Students and Faculty


Links to articles that describe brainstorming, ideation, and design thinking.


Media Ideation Fellowship offers a Media Ideation Fellowship for social entrepreneurs.[40] The technology accelerator is interested in founders who will “transform progressive politics or remedy a social inequity.”

National Grants and Competitions for Media Ventures

You’ll read more about other sources of nontraditional funding and resources in the Startup Funding chapter of this open textbook. Here is one crowdsourced list[41] of such opportunities.

Michelle Ferrier is an associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. She is the founder of, an online pest control service for women journalists. Reach her on Twitter at @mediaghosts.

Leave feedback on this chapter.

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  20. ”The Value of Balancing Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability,” Crowd Favorite
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  35. "A Guide to Journalism and Design," Tow Center for Digital Journalism,
  36. Rikke Dam and Teo Siang, “Introduction to the Essential Ideation Techniques Which are the Heart of Design Thinking,” Interaction Design,
  37. John Boitnott, "10 Longtime Brainstorming Techniques that Still Work," Inc.com
  38. "6 Types of Brainstorms that Help Create Awesome Ideas," Pace,
  39. "Ideation - Learn More About Your Innate Talents from Gallup's Clifton StrengthsFinder!" Gallup Strengths Center on YouTube,
  40. "Media Ideation Fellowship,",


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Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Copyright © 2017 by Michelle Ferrier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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