Strategy & Innovation

Impact Model: a scientific method for innovation ideation

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Discover the Impact Model: the method of idea generation and evaluation based on potential impact, aimed at identifying and developing solutions that will have the most positive effects on users and the ecosystem concerned.


State of play: the limits of brainstorming and other collective ideation methods

In the article"Generating innovative concepts: the limits of divergence", I mentioned the limits of current ideation methods, which are based on a divergent-convergent approach: as many ideas as possible are generated in an ideation phase, then the ideas to be developed are selected from these generated ideas.

Divergent-convergent A divergent-convergent ideation approach is a problem-solving method that begins by generating a large number of varied ideas (divergent creativity phase) before narrowing them down and selecting the best ones for further development (convergent phase).

Problems with existing methods and creativity techniques

The scientific literature has for some time pointed to the problems of these methods for generating ideas with high market potential:

  1. On the one hand, the quantity of ideas generated in ideation sessions doesn't necessarily ensure the quality of the ideas generated; not least because human beings have a tendency to generate the ideas that come easily to mind, and let others generate the complicated ones.
  2. On the other hand, whatever the quality of the ideas generated in these ideation workshops, there remains a major problem of idea selection, which often leads to the best ideas not being selected.

Ideation is not necessarily synonymous with divergence

Since divergent methods don't seem to work, we thought it would be a good idea to look at convergent methods.

Convergent methods Convergent methods are problem-solving approaches that aim to progressively narrow down the field of possibilities to converge on a single or optimal solution, often through systematic, structured analysis.

The convergent methods currently in use, such as TRIZ, are particularly well suited to solving technical problems and contradictions. On the other hand, they don't appear to be very well suited outside this field (although attempts to apply TRIZ outside problem solving do exist, the method was not designed for this purpose).

TRIZ TRIZ is a methodology for inventive problem solving, based on the analysis of patents and existing solutions to identify general principles of creativity that can be applied to new technical problems.

Creation of a convergent method non-specific to technical problems

The fundamental question was: what would be the ideal system for generating innovative concepts, whether technological or not?

By "best idea" we mean the one that will have the greatest impact, i.e. the one that will bring about the most favorable effects for the ecosystem as a whole, compared to existing alternatives, and with regard to the given constraints and success criteria.

Drawing on existing convergent methods, it appears that a convergent approach meeting the criteria of the ideal system could work as follows:

  • identify the most favorable effects
  • analyze, at the functional level, the requirements for achieving these effects
  • identify solutions that could satisfy each of the requirements while respecting the initial constraints
  • aggregate these multiple solutions into a coherent whole

It was on this basis that we created the Impact Model.

The Impact Model: a method for evaluating and generating ideas

Definition and objectives of the Impact Model

TheImpact Model is a method of ideation and idea selection based on impact. We define impact as the difference made for users, when using the solution under consideration, compared with its alternatives.

A method based on research in innovation, marketing and psychology

The Impact Model is a method based on numerous research currents, notably in innovation, consumer psychology, neuroscience and marketing. These different currents have enabled us to gain a detailed understanding of the mechanisms of innovation, from its birth to its adoption, and thus to build a method for maximizing the success of innovative solutions right from the design stage.

However, impact must be perceived in order to be valued. Perceived impact is when an awareness attributes a result to the use of a solution. It's this impact that we're looking for, as it creates value for users, and therefore market potential: I attribute a beneficial result for me to a solution, and this solution creates value for me, so I want to buy the right to use it to benefit from the beneficial result.

This impact can be measured in at least qualitative terms. Thus, each innovative solution will have a contribution, expressed as a ratio between what is received by the user and the cost of use. Drawing on a wealth of existing work in neuroscience, psychology and marketing, we have defined several "categories" of results received and cost of use, enabling us to express and evaluate several alternative ideas in a comparable way.

For example, going to the movies will bring fun, emotional involvement, potentially belonging if you go in a group, sharing and so on. And this will cost you the price of the cinema ticket, the 2h30 of the film, and the environmental cost that watching a film in the cinema represents for one person.

The impact of a new solution, i.e. the difference made by this solution compared with its alternatives, is evaluated on the basis of the difference in this ratio. Does the new solution create new inputs at a similar cost? Does it create more of the same inputs at a similar cost? Does it have a lower cost for the same inputs, or even for more inputs?

The aim is to create a beneficial impact, not only for direct users of the solution, but also for all players in the ecosystem. We're not talking here about the company's ecosystem, but rather that of the innovation itself, i.e. all the players directly or indirectly affected by the existence and use of the new solution.

The aim is also to create a lasting impact over time. Thus, we use the term "global impact" to designate all the impacts of the solution, for all its users and uses, over time. This is the footprint left by the solution.

The Impact Model for finding an idea or selecting the best idea

This tool can be used for a variety of applications and purposes, including :

  1. Identify the highest-potential innovation opportunity for a business, and the concept to bring it to fruition.
  2. Identify high-potential applications for a technology
  3. Sorting innovative projects to select those with the greatest potential impact
  4. Optimize innovative concepts to maximize their impact

The Impact Model is a tool available to innovators in the ideation phase to generate and evaluate innovative ideas, based on maximizing impact for the entire ecosystem, which seems to be the best way to generate value. Thanks to a solid business model, the company can then capture a significant share of this value.

How to use the Impact Model method for ideation?

Preliminary data analysis phase

The first step is to analyze the input data: on the business concerned, the technology developed if starting from a technology, the company's context and in particular its ecosystem. It is also important to understand the constraints and success criteria, in particular the environmental and societal issues associated with the project.

Impact Model analysis workshop to define specifications

As the Impact Model is a convergent method, we first define what the innovation "should" do for its users, the most favorable effects it can have. Thus, for a technology, we identify its differentiating capacities and what these differences enable it to do. For an activity or context, we'll identify its current effects and the areas where these effects can be improved. These effects will then be analyzed and broken down, enabling us to draw up the specifications for the concept with the greatest impact.

Constrained ideation workshop

Next comes the constrained ideation phase: the idea(s) corresponding to the specifications must be found. The easiest way to do this is to come up with one or more ideas for each item in the specifications independently, taking inspiration from existing solutions; then aggregate them into a coherent solution.

The concept can then be optimized to maximize its impact, distribution and business model.

Comparison with classic ideation methods such as Design Thinking

Compared with existing methods, the Impact Model offers a number of significant advantages and can be used to meet several objectives:

Because of its convergent nature, Impact Model doesn't require the extensive manpower and time resources needed to generate many ideas and then evaluate them all. In fact, where Design Thinking recommends bringing together a multi-disciplinary team, the Impact Model method can be operated with two people: one expert in the method itself, and one with complete knowledge of the context under consideration. And with all the necessary data at hand, analysis and idea generation can be completed in a matter of hours.

Nevertheless, it is perfectly suited to non-technical issues, unlike methods such as TRIZ.

The overall impact and its components provide clear evaluation criteria to guide both idea generation and idea evaluation. This does not completely eliminate cognitive biases (as long as there are humans, there will be cognitive biases), but it does significantly reduce them.

Cognitive biases Cognitive biases are systematic tendencies to think in a certain way that may deviate from objective or rational judgment, often due to the way information is perceived and processed by the brain.

The Design Thinking has introduced selection criteria (desirability, technical feasibility, business viability), but these criteria generally come into play after many ideas have been generated, and are not strictly defined in their application, leaving room for subjectivity (unless additional studies such as market research are carried out, for example).

The Impact Model also integrates into its very essence environmental and societal issues, and the need to create innovations that make sense and prove genuinely useful; without sacrificing prospects of economic gain for the innovator, since without this, the impact cannot be sustainable.

Nevertheless, existing methods are still of particular interest for certain problems. TRIZ is a highly effective way of solving technical design problems. And Design Thinking remains an excellent, if not the best, way of defining a clear vision, establishing an innovation roadmap and aligning various stakeholders around it, and generally instilling a collective dynamic around an innovation strategy.


The Impact Model, through its rigorous analysis, enables the generation of innovative concepts that maximize the positive effects for the ecosystem as a whole. It encourages entrepreneurs to go beyond mere ideation to consider their potential to solve real problems and create significant opportunities, in a sustainable way.

By integrating these concepts and paying particular attention to environmental and societal issues, the Impact Model is not only a method of ideation and idea selection, but also a philosophy of responsible innovation, taking into account environmental and societal issues without sacrificing the economic perspective.

For companies and innovators seeking to develop truly innovative, high-impact solutions, the adoption of the Impact Model can mark a turning point and lead us to rethink the way we do Innovation. In the same way that Design Thinking has enabled us to rethink innovation processes based on design research, the Impact Model draws on numerous scientific trends to propose a more efficient method of idea generation and selection. This method enables entrepreneurs to make informed decisions, based on analytical reasoning and supported by scientific research, in favor of responsible innovation and sustainable progress for all stakeholders.

If you'd like to find out more about the Impact Model and talk to an expert about its application to your projects, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Léa Bunnens

R&D Director - Doctor - Expert in Business Model innovation

With one foot in research and the other in innovation projects, Léa's main mission is to bring these two worlds closer together. On a daily basis, the projects she helps to bring to fruition enable her to build new methods and tools designed to increase the chances of success for subsequent projects. Her specialty: detecting the right opportunity, building the best possible idea, and offering it the optimal business model.

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