idea generation tools for the lonely headJanuary 3, 2014
Two heads are better than one. Yes. Sometimes that is correct. But other times, there’s only one head to think of ideas or solutions. So what’s that head to do?
Creativity can be taught, nurtured, and enhanced. We are all born with it. In fact, the right brain part – responsible for ideas, intuition, love and absorbing information fast – is developed faster in the fetus than the left brain that is in charge of rational, linear or logical thinking. Geniuses are no different than any of us. They are not smarter by birth, but they know how to balance logic with play and therefore think smarter, a tool anyone can learn
Luckily, there are hundreds of tools to generate ideas. Sadly, not many people use those tools regularly. There is a strong correlation between the quality and the quantity of ideas. There’s a need to try many ideas in order to generate something groundbreaking. My intention here is to showcase some simple tools, each can be done in 5 minutes or less, and require nothing but a pen and paper to produce a lot of ideas to solve one problem or challenge. And remember, just like Einstein claimed, sometimes imagination is more important than knowledge.
CHANGE THE WORD
A simple change of words or the order of words in a problem statement will stimulate your imagination by adding new dimensions of meaning, as an unobservable process in your mind has initiated and may lead to a new thought or idea, says Michael Michalko in his book, Cracking Creativity. Suppose you want to increase sales. See how you can change perspectives by changing the verb:
In what ways might I increase sales?
In what ways might I attract sales?
In what ways might I develop sales?
In what ways might I extend sales?
In what ways might repeat sales?
In what ways might I stop sales?
Notice the last question has a negative aspect. By thinking in the opposite way, you can rid your mind from all the reasons why you cannot make sales. And when you set to plan, plan the opposite.
Using the same exercise, try to change the words in your challenge. If you look at the opening between two rooms and think door, that’s the only idea you will get. But if you consider another word like passageway, air curtain, tunnel, or even a hole in a wall, you will bring your thinking into a different lateral level.
Deliberately ask stupid questions to shock your mind out of its original patterns. Then suspend judgment and use that statement to generate ideas. Here’s how to do it:
- Make a statement (examples: people should fly to work, we should eat for free in restaurants, people need to sleep standing up)
- Examine it
- Consequences of the statement
- What the benefits would be
- What special circumstances will make it a sensible solution
- Principles needed to support it and make it work.
- How it would work moment-to-moment
- What would happen if a sequence of events was changed
The more outrageous your statement is, the more creative your ideas to try and make it work. It’s worth a try.
Take a step back to look at the bigger picture.
Place your problem in a bubble (draw it) and then produce the ideas or solutions that you can think of for this problem. Next, move that problem into a bigger area or category. Come up with ideas or solutions for that bigger issue. Repeat another time if needed and then choose the level at which you find an inspiring solution.
5 WHYS + HOW
Are you solving the right problem? Or is it a symptom of it? To find out the right level at which you need to focus, do the 5 whys method. Write your problem down, and ask yourself “why” do I need to do it. Write your answer down (so now you have 2 sentences written on top of each other). Then ask again, why (for the second statement) and write the third response and then ask again, why. Do that 5 times and each time you will reach a higher level of abstract thinking. Make sure to write your answers on top of each other with the “why” in between each sentence.
Then go for the “how” and next to each sentence you wrote, ask “How” and give an idea or two on how you can solve the problem at that level, and at each level consequently. Once you’ve answered all 5 hows, you can see your problem, and some initial ideas on different levels of abstraction. Choose the one you are comfortable with to try out and continue from there. Here’s an example. The first “steps” WHY are in blue, the second steps HOW are in orange
Choose the level which you are comfortable (and able) to work with and generate as many ideas as you can to solve that issue.
DECOMPOSITION BY SEQUENCE
There are a number of ways to decompose a challenge to smaller more workable bits. One can decompose it based on sequence of events. If it’s a product to be used, then what are the steps to use such product (from needing the product, to looking for it, finding it, using and then releasing or archiving it). If it’s a service, then those are the steps to accomplish it. Note down the sequence of steps as a diagram and then work on each one to generate more ideas on how to improve that step. For example, how to make our morning routines go smoother and maybe faster. We note the steps and then we find a way to combine, shorten or eliminate unnecessary ones
IMAGINE YOU ARE YOUR PROBLEM
What if you were the very same idea you are trying to come up with. What if you were the project you’re trying to complete at work. How does it if feel to get close to a “dead” line? How could you be easier to handle? Who do you need to speak with when you are happy? When suffering? Imagine yourself a watch or a chair. How could you become more attractive? More comfortable? How can you make others want to be around you, and you only?
CREATE A METAPHOR
Roger von Oech advices in his Creative Whack Pack that the key to metaphorical thinking is comparing unrelated concepts and finding similarities between them. What similarities does your idea have with cooking a meal? Conducting an orchestra? Building a house? Raising a child? What can you compare your idea to?
Explain your problem to a 5 years old. What would you say? Explain it to your great grandmother. How would you relate? Simplify your language to get a clearer image of what you’re up against.
PUT ON A HAT
write a random list of jobs that are as far from your immediate life as possible. A nurse, a truck driver, an architect, a fire fighter or a winter sports olymian. State your problem as you see it, then re-state it thinking how would that person in one of those professions see it. Then generate ideas from his/her point of view.
For example, if your problem is manging the overloaded sales for a particular product, you can ask, how would a nurse manage an overloaded ICU unit, giving each patient what they need, when they need it? how would a truck driver manage an overloaded vehicle or an overloaded street? how would a fire fighter mange to take care of a full “overloaded” building that has a fire alarm set and no sign of fire, yet. Write ideas for each new hat you are wearing, then re-group all ideas and see which ones you can alter or change or use as it is for your overloaded sales problem
NATURE’S PROBLEM SOLVING
Use what you know about nature in imagining your problem from its perspective. Choose an animal you are familiar with, and ask yourself how would this animal solve your problem? Do the exercise another time and choose a plant, and then a third time and chose an insect. Repeat.
……. Now that you have a number of tools to work with, let me know which one did magic for you and which was lame. I will add more tools or ideas to help you out whether you are a long, or with a group of people, anything from 2 to 200 people. Good Luck. Cheers!