Manicures, groceries, lunch. On-demand services have shrunk our expectation for delivery of the things we desire to 15 minutes or less. Any longer and we're checking our watches and grousing about the service these days.

But what if you could get something more abstract--a quick hit of creative skills, say--in the time it takes a Tasker to assemble your new IKEA desk? On Monday, global innovation and design firm IDEO will debut just that--an online course called From Ideas to Action. Created by the new education platform IDEO U, the course covers design-thinking methodologies like ideation. Want a sneak peek? Try this exercise, which can be done alone or with a team.

Ideation is all about coming up with new ideas that address critical business and social challenges. Here's the trick: In order to have a few breakthrough ideas, you must be willing to have completely ridiculous ideas along the way. True innovation often seems absurd at first. When wheels were invented, roads didn’t exist. The Internet initially seemed like something only the military could use. Many ideas that seemed doomed to fail (read CEO Brian Chesky's post about Airbnb's humble start) transformed into things we can't live without.

Any great ideation session begins with a well-framed opportunity. We use something we call "How Might We" statements-;an optimistic, solutions-oriented starting point. It's critical that a How Might We statement allows for a broad set of solutions but is narrow enough that we know where to begin. For example, in a challenge around improving the patient experience at a hospital, one of our ideation sessions began with "How might we better support patients' families in the hospital?"

Once the How Might We statement is defined, teams typically race to generate ideas. But other methods can help teams push past the obvious. One of the fastest (and most fun) is called the Mash-up. A Mash-up brings odd or unexpected things together to spark fresh ideas. The process is outlined below, with additional detail in these worksheets.

STEP 1 - FRAME - Articulate the challenge as a How Might We statement.

STEP 2 - NARROW - Pick two broad, unrelated categories, like hospitals and hotels or waiting rooms and schools. Think outside your industry.

STEP 3 - GENERATE - One category at a time, list as many elements of these two experiences as you can in two minutes.

STEP 4 - MASH-UP - Combine items from the two lists to ideate as many new products, services, or experiences as possible.

The Mash-up emphasizes quantity. The more ideas you come up with, the better chance you have to reach a truly brilliant solution. It also applies constraints. Quick sprints drive creative sessions and avoid burnout. Perhaps most importantly, it helps us start down the path from the ridiculous to the radical solution.

Once you’ve given the exercise a spin, we'd love to hear what problems and solutions you came up with. Please submit your worksheets here, and Inc.com will publish some of the best ideas. 

Published on: Jul 17, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.