Idea generation (ideation) is critical to the design and marketing of new products, to marketing strategy, and to the creation of effective advertising copy. However, there has been relatively little formal research on the underlying incentives with which to encourage participants to focus their energies on relevant and novel ideas. Several problems have been identified with traditional ideation methods. For example, participants often free ride on other participants' efforts because rewards are typically based on the group-level output of ideation sessions.
This paper examines whether carefully tailored ideation incentives can improve creative output. I begin by studying the influence of incentives on idea generation using a formal model of the ideation process. This model illustrates the effect of rewarding participants for their impact on the group, and identifies a parameter that mediates this effect. I then develop a practical, web-based, asynchronous "ideation game," which allows the implementation and test of various incentive schemes. Using this system, I run two experiments, which demonstrate that incentives do have the capability to improve idea generation, confirm the predictions from the theoretical analysis, and provide additional insight on the mechanisms of ideation.