Posts Tagged ‘creativity’


idea generation tools for the lonely head

January 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.


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:

  1. Make a statement (examples: people should fly to work, we should eat for free in restaurants, people need to sleep standing up)
  1. Examine it
    1. Consequences of the statement
    2. What the benefits would be
    3. What special circumstances will make it a sensible solution
    4. Principles needed to support it and make it work.
    5. How it would work moment-to-moment
    6. 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.

concept fan


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.

how how


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

decompose sequence


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?


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.


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


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!


Disrupting our learning

February 11, 2013

The school system is instantly outdated. The very second the students memorize the information and enter it into the final exam, they forget it. And why shouldn’t they? They won’t use it anymore.

We turn knowledge into subjects, and systems into streams. We favor the linear over the complex and we seek clear-cut problems with right or wrong answers rather than offer ambiguous dilemmas with uncertain consequences to our decisions, thus enhancing our leadership skills. Basically, we create a fabricated world that is irrelevant to how we live our lives, use information or make decisions.

For the past century, this system worked fine as the industrial age favored the belt-educated factory workers. But now in the information age, where everything and everyone is connected, no specialization can work in silo from others, and no field of technology can ever succeed without depending on a number of other subjects, along with their own branches of learning, style, and discoveries. How else can we employ analogy across topics and deliver creative outcomes?

Texture of the school subject


Some colleges and universities have attempted to offer a solution using a multidisciplinary approach. You major in two or more subjects and you find connections to improve all. Yet, this approach is delivered the same way as the rest of the majors, by experts passing their teaching of their specific subject and students learning from a number of experts from different fields try to find or relate topics to each other. Thus the student may become multidisciplinary but the teachers themselves are not.

What if we can find a way to teach and learn in a multidisciplinary process? What would it look like? What if everyone in the room is both teaching and learning at the same time? Using their own colorful style and subject? What if we all are trying to learn our very own subject in a brand new way? Will still be experts after?

This is an attempt I’m trying to make.

By inviting a number of creative minds, each specialized in a different subject, they will teach and learn at the same time. The process will keep in mind the different learning styles (auditory, visually, and kinaesthetically), as well as use different tools borrowed from the creativity toolbox and design thinking. The results will be circulated for all interested, including followers of this blog.

To kick off this project, join me in a MOOC webinar (#cmc11) on February the 14th (12:00pm NY time, 9:00pm Dubai time) to talk about this very “subject”.

If you are in or near Dubai, UAE this month, give me a shout and join our event in the last week of February 2013. More on that to come soon.


Understand your social innovation topic (a step in Design Thinking)

November 13, 2008

In the d school, there is no linear method to understand design thinking. The step by step process we will take is not an indication of which comes first. It’s just to facilitate the communication about it.


In understanding the situation or issue at hand, we look at it through our own lens of expertise and we focus on the things that matter the most to us. The very same issue could be tackled in a completely different way from someone else who has other salient features available to them. The more creative we are, the more we are able to notice those other features as well, and then determine if we want to take them into consideration or not.



To understand a huge topic such as social innovation, the very first step would be our sincere interest and passion to know more about both elements: the social, and the innovation. The first time I learned about this was last year, as part of a training offered by the Centre for Social Innovation (you’d think I’d get a hint from their name, but that was a slow day for me). They describe the process as the new ideas that resolve existing social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges for the benefit of people and planet. A true social innovation is systems-changing – it permanently alters the perceptions, behaviours and structures that previously gave rise to these challenges. Some examples are the Wikipedia, the Open university in the UK, micro-credit, the fair trade movement, and community wind farms (Geoff Mulgan talks more about these examples). When you dig deeper into the research as part of your thinking mechanism (now that you became a design thinker), you get more information on the leadership qualities behind those who pioneer it, the environmental factors that facilitate its process, and even how to notice the missing gaps that can lead to a socially innovative idea. In the case of micro-credit, one of the leading figures and a Nobel Prize winner is Dr. Muhamad Younus, who noticed that a village of 42 people in Bangladesh only needed $27 to pay their debt and save them from the loan sharks. He loaned his own money to the villagers thinking it was a gift, and was surprised when the money was returned to him fully after the villagers recovered their losses. That initiated a movement of micro-credit around the world.


Another thing you can do to understand the issue at hand is by talking to experts. Experts are those who will use the innovation, the affected ones, in addition to those who know about it. You start by understanding the needs that aren’t being met, and consider some ideas of how it could be met. Sometimes needs are very obvious like homelessness or hunger. Other times they are less obvious like domestic violence or racism. In Geoff Mulgan point of view: “empathy is the starting point, and ethnography is usually a more relevant formal tool than statistical analysis”. Everyone knows how to solve their problems, some need courage, others need resources or support. If you find those who champion the success stories, then you can get insight into what’s possible and more effective.


When you immerse yourself in the topic of your choice, inevitably you will get experience. This will help you further hone down your target and the solutions proposed. You will find support if you take the extra mile. This support can come from others working with you or from organizations willing to sponsor you. Some of the big organizations that support social innovation for example are:Eva’s Initiatives Award for Innovation, the Institute for Social Invention and their Global Ideas BankMIT Community Innovation Lab, the Social Action Laboratory at Melbourne, South Africa’s Poverty Action Lab, Innovation Lab Copenhagen , Civic Innovation Lab.




Bon recherche!





Design thinking for the mass.

November 11, 2008


Yesterday was day one of the Design Thinking for Social Innovation workshop.

The group was very diverse, vibrant and simply brilliant. We have about 14 in the class plus 3 facilitators, Helene was leading the workshop, and me and Deborah as side kicks. It was hosted by the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, Canada


What was different about it this time, that it was the first time I am engaged in offering Design Thinking to an open group. Usually it’s more like one organization or a group of people who want to tackle a certain issue and we go through the process together. Having the group come from different backgrounds and experiences was refreshing to see as the evening evolved and topics were covered in the shortest time I’ve seen them before. Yet, isn’t this how it’s supposed to be?


Since the age of time, or even longer, architects and other designers have been teaching their students how to use sketching and drawing not only to translate their ideas for others to see, but also as a mechanism to work out certain details that help in solving their problems. Now the world is “discovering” those Design Studios, embracing their mechanism and finding ways to adapt it to their everyday lives. Something both challenging as well as exciting for those non-designers among us.


So here it is, design thinking for the mass.


I’ll build on the workshops’ material and focus on one model at a time. Let’s start by the d school model in design thinking and work our way to others as needed.






workspace design and creativity in organizations.

January 12, 2008

Traditionally the workspace has been designed favouring one particular setting – offices or cubicles vs. open-plan space – and this pattern cannot accommodate the different phases of creativity. As a consequence, it is to be expected that offices offering hybrid infrastructure will become more popular in organizations, suggesting that if the firm is to invest resources in the creation of a dedicated innovation environment, then it is essential that the strategic intentions underpinning this space are explicit. In this sense, VanGundy persuades companies to design a creativity room specifically for this purpose and load it with materials, books, idea generation aids and group setting. Design firms such as IDEO also develop spaces that support visualization, exploration and inspiration through access to materials and artifacts. Another example is a space developed to improve and advance pharmaceutical products, as they provided a separate area with walls and floor filled with objects and models, bulletin boards, flat tabletops, drawers, cabinets, progress reports, sketches, computers with CAD, metal and wood workshops, competing products, props, wood and metal workshops, recording of previous sessions, bulletins displayed previous attempts, isolation from disturbance. Companies can add to this list by providing different layouts for the activities taken in the office; such as access to information and support, gathering zones and interaction areas for informal as well as formal meetings and sections and moving furniture for different thinking processes. Other organizations might want to adopt some guidelines to creativity and problem solving. A well known model developed by Alex Osborn and Sid Parnes is called the Creative Problem Solving (CPS). Supporters of this method use stages to move between steps. Those stages can be installed in the design blueprint and plan for rooms that can be called: The Clarification Chamber ® (CC), The Transformational Hall ® (TH) or the Implementation Lab ® (IL). (more on these room names soon)

As per the architectural design, while some design values are targeted at encouraging specific behaviours (i.e. futuristic, playful, minimalist, etc), the use of imagery can reinforce actions, i.e. triangular room for creative divergence. I am not suggesting constructing the building itself as triangular, as this might impede future changes to the place, but the use of temporary architecture has more to offer than meets the eye. Those installations can exist without a determinate function, because they are free to suggest uses rather than being governed by them, and because they are free to exist on sites inaccessible to permanent architecture. As in the unfinished, one can imagine new realities.

In conclusion, the essential meaning of the space is to allow emotions to surface in the work area to further enhance the performance of the occupants and not necessarily suppress them for productivity sake. Whether it is the movable walls that support small and big group sizes or the warm colors that contrast a high-stress environment, movable furniture that accommodate informal idea development, or the geometrical propositions that stimulate various expressions of movement, serious effort on understanding the effects of such atmosphere will stimulate creative behavior in the work environment.


you can read more about design issues and creativity by reading”Organizational creativity through space design” – 2008,Randah Taher.