Seth Godin: marketer, entrepreneur and, most importantly, catalyst. He’s inspired me to talk about how ideas get discovered with his recent post. We’re going to look at idea generation techniques in this article.
Ideas are a dime a dozen, to paraphrase a cliche. Good ideas are somewhat rare and great ideas even more so. At the same time, it’s easy to generate lots of bad, worn out ideas if you keep trying to develop them the same way (cue the Einstein quote about different kinds of thinking…)
Seth provides a possible solution to the “stuck in a conference room” rut in a recent post:
The best ideas come out of the corner of our eye, the edge of our consciousness, in a flash. They are the result of misdirection and random collisions, not a grinding corporate onslaught. And yet we waste billions of dollars in time looking for them where they’re not.
A practical tip: buy a big box of real wooden blocks. Write a key factor/asset/strategy on each block in big letters. Play with the blocks. Build concrete things out of non-concrete concepts.
This is a cool technique. It’s an exercise of combining thoughts, facts, and concepts, sometimes in seemingly random order, in order to generate new ideas. It’s not as simple or easy as combining peanut butter and chocolate to make a candy bar, but it’s the same principle.
It reminds me of several other cool idea generation techniques that I thought would be useful to you, dear thoughtwrestler, if you are trying to come up with something new but you’re stuck.
This idea generation technique was developed by magician Stewart James; it was featured in Advantage Play, written by David Ben. Stewart James envisioned three giant wheels, each representing a different characteristic. Each wheel had a number of possible values. He would randomly “spin” the wheels in his mind and see which three values would come up at one time. Then he would examine the three values that appeared and decide if he could use them for the basis of a creative project.
An easier way of doing this is to take three attributes of a creative project (say text, video, and images). Create a bunch of cards representing different examples of each attribute. Put all of the cards face down into three piles, sorted by attribute. Draw one card from the top of each pile and turn them face up. Try combining the concepts on each card and see if they will work well together. If not, discard. Try the next three cards and keep going until you find a combination that works for you.
Playing card variant
Similar to Ezekiel Wheels, this method uses a standard deck of 52 playing cards. First, assign values to each suit (spades, clubs, diamonds, and hearts) and to each card (2 through Ace). For example, the cards J-Q-K-A could represent people or different kinds of people. The other cards could represent activities, equipment, attributes, etc. The colors could represent locations: home, work, hobbies, school, or whatever works.
Deal yourself a hand of cards (five) and see what you get. It’s kind of like trying to make a good poker hand. If the concepts suggested by all five cards don’t work, discard the least promising ones and deal more cards to try to get a better hand. Keep going as needed until inspiration strikes. The beauty of this idea generation technique is that virtually everyone owns a deck of cards.
Collectible card game (CCG) variant
Do you or someone you know have any of those CCGs like Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or maybe one that’s comic book based? They could help you generate ideas. This variant is similar to the playing card variant, but requires more imagination. This time, shuffle the deck of cards and draw seven cards, similar to the starting hand in one of those games.
Look at the cards. In most of these games, there are multiple card types which allow you to do something different, like:
- growing to giant size
- casting a fireball
- stealing something from an opponent.
Take your imagination off of its leash when you look at the card. Is there some way that you can translate this fantastic concept into something you can use in the real world? Generate truly imaginative ideas with this technique.
Draw as many cards as you need until you get inspired.
In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels, there’s a scene where a couple of characters are trying to discover the Question to the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything (you know what the Answer is, right? Good, you just got 42 million cool points.) They use a handmade Scrabble game to try to get the Question out of one character’s mind. They pulled out tiles in order and read the words that were spelled by the letters.
It didn’t work for them, but maybe it could work for you.
You could try pulling Scrabble tiles out of a bag at random and seeing if you can spell any words. Try to use those words in the context of your problem. Or, you could take the tiles and use each one as the first letter of random words. If you draw the letter S, then it could represent words beginning with S, like:
Then, you could try to apply those words to your problem, like the other ideas noted above.
Just have a ball
Finally…. if all of this seems too weird or time consuming, there’s always the Magic 8 Ball. Maybe it has an answer for you.
One final point
You won’t always get the idea you’re looking for directly from any of these methods. The value in using these methods is the additional thoughts that they will inspire. It’s important to allow your mind to wander or make it’s own intuitive leaps when you use these methods. I mean, if you draw a card that tells you to throw a lightning bolt at your problem, there’s no way you are going to do that.
Not literally (we hope!)
But think about some other phenomena in your workplace or marketplace that a lightning bolt would suggest to you: fast, bright, shocking, etc. How can the characteristics of that card help you create something new?
Over to you. Do you have any great idea generation techniques that you’d like to share? Also, if you try any of these techniques, leave us a comment or send us an E-Mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how you made out!
Subscribe to Thoughtwrestling so you can read more great ideas about creativity, problem solving, and getting things done.
Image by Holger Zscheyge,
No related posts.