Can AI Out-Innovate Humans? The Debate on AI-led Ideation

A critical examination of whether artificial intelligence can generate better ideas than humans and its implications for innovation in business.

The question of whether artificial intelligence (AI) can surpass human creativity has sparked a heated debate. Recent studies have shown that AI models like ChatGPT can generate more and potentially better ideas than human counterparts in certain contexts. However, the novelty and groundbreaking potential of AI-generated ideas are still under scrutiny. This article delves into the ongoing discussion, exploring the strengths and limitations of AI-led ideation and its impact on innovation in business.


AI vs. Humans: The Battle of Ideas
In a 2023 study published in Ideas are Dimes a Dozen, AI model ChatGPT outperformed MBA students at an elite university in generating new consumer product ideas. The study measured the “purchase intent” of target customers and found that the majority of the top 10% “best” ideas came from the AI. This suggests that AI has the potential to generate more ideas and increase the chances of finding a brilliant one.

The Importance of Novelty in Complex Problem-Solving
While AI may excel in generating a large quantity of ideas, the novelty factor is crucial for solving complex problems. The authors of Ideas are Dimes a Dozen acknowledge this, emphasizing that businesses and societies require groundbreaking solutions. Leonard Boussioux, assistant professor at the University of Washington, argues that AI models are based on a recombination of existing ideas and provide statistically probable answers, rather than rare and exceptional ones. Humans still possess an edge in producing groundbreaking ideas in complex areas.

The Process of AI-led Ideation
AI-led ideation involves a process similar to that of a jazz musician. ChatGPT searches for information about target markets, frustrations, existing product ideas, and successful ventures. It then combines and reinterprets this data to generate fresh suggestions. Christian Terwiesch, professor at Wharton University and co-author of Ideas are Dimes a Dozen, emphasizes that the scale of data on which AI models are trained makes them remarkably useful, even if they lack human understanding.

Real-World Applications of AI in Idea Generation
Various companies across industries are already leveraging AI tools for idea generation. Ideanote, Google AI, IBM Watson, and offer AI-based tools to support the ideation and development process. Microsoft 365 Copilot uses natural language prompts to accelerate the creative process and generate ideas. Customers, including General Motors and The Walsh Group, have praised Copilot as a catalyst for creativity. Additionally, toy designer Mattel has utilized Dall-e, an AI that creates custom images from natural language descriptions, to speed up the design process and foster imagination.

The Pitfalls of AI-led Innovation
While AI can assist in generating ideas and enhancing design, it cannot judge which ideas are better. Selection remains an Achilles heel for AI, as it lacks the ability to assess quality and potential. Human judgement and market research are essential in evaluating ideas before development. Furthermore, AI’s lack of understanding and reliance on training data can lead to biases and the exclusion of important ideas from underrepresented populations. Responsible and careful use of AI is crucial to avoid these pitfalls.

Upskilling and Ethical Considerations
To fully unlock the creative potential of AI, upskilling is necessary. Businesses must ensure their workforce possesses the skills to maximize AI opportunities. Transparency in AI models, including training data and operations, is vital in understanding potential challenges such as copyright disputes and biases. Microsoft aims to assume legal responsibility for any copyright disputes arising from customers using its AI products. Ethical deployment of AI, combating disinformation, safeguarding data privacy, and respecting copyright are critical considerations.


The debate surrounding AI-led ideation continues to unfold, with proponents highlighting AI’s ability to generate a large quantity of ideas and potentially increase the chances of discovering brilliant ones. However, the novelty and groundbreaking potential of AI-generated ideas remain a subject of contention. While AI can aid in idea generation and design, human judgement and market research are still indispensable. The responsible and ethical use of AI, coupled with upskilling efforts, will be crucial in harnessing its creative potential. By striking a balance between AI and human collaboration, businesses can navigate the complexities of ideation and innovation in the digital age.