Post No.: 0766
In Post No.: 0759, we looked at some general pointers when brainstorming alone or in groups. If you’re still stuck trying to come up with creative ideas for new products or businesses, or solutions to problems or challenges in any field, there are plenty of specific techniques you can have a go at to get them flowing.
‘Linear thinking’ is about using existing information and relies on conscious processes to think up new ideas.
‘Intuitive thinking’ is about generating new information through insight, imagination and intuition and relies on asking of and listening to your unconscious for new ideas.
For intuitive thinking, you believe that the solution is already in your unconscious brain. This is different to asking ‘is there a solution?’ because at some level you already believe you know the answer and just have to know how and where to look for it. The best approach is to first use the linear techniques to feed your brain with information for ideas, then to use the intuitive techniques to further work on them.
So in this post we’ll cover the linear thinking techniques…
Reverse your assumptions – don’t make incorrect assumptions but challenge them. Nothing is sacrosanct or should be taken for granted. The ways things have been done in the past means nothing for now. Think from a different viewpoint such as how things could work if the opposite of something were true?
List the attributes – list all of the specific attributes of a product or problem. Methodically focus on each individual attribute and try to change or improve them to make a new whole. Question ‘why?’ and ‘how else?’ Ask what else this product or feature could be used for? Try combining some attributes together then analysing them.
Subdivide the challenge – separate out the attributes of a problem or challenge into 2 key words, then subdivide those words up into 2 attributes again. Divide up the new words again if desired. Look at the list of all the words you’ve made then focus on one topic, or link any together, to present a new way of looking at the challenge.
Mind maps – organise your thoughts onto a mind map that shows the interrelationships and patterns of each item of thought in a way that your brain conceptually processes and holds information. Use only key words or the essences of each item of thought, then draw, link and make any (unusual) free associations that you can think of from and between them. Cluster the associations and test them. Spot missing information and highlight where you appear to need more and better ideas. Continually question and add to the map. Look at it again after a few days (or even months) because you might discover insights and perspectives you didn’t spot before.
SCAMPER – the function of any object isn’t inherent in the object itself but develops from our observations and associations with it. So transform existing things into something new, then transform these new ideas again and again, with more alternative ideas until one or a few ideas stand out for you. Ask of each stage of the problem or challenge whether you could substitute something? Can you combine it with something else? Could you adapt something to it, adopt from other ideas or place it into other contexts? Can you modify, manipulate, customise, change, add to, add more or magnify it? Could you put it to some other use and what about the by-products? Could you eliminate something, reduce, separate or streamline it? And can you reverse or rearrange it?
Force-field analysis – analyse your strengths and weaknesses, then add more positives and/or minimise your weaknesses by targeting them for improvements.
Morphological analysis – select the parameters (aspects, characteristics or variables) of the challenge and then list several variations of them. Try linking different random combinations of these to make something new.
Market analysis – to spot niches in your industry or gaps in the market, compare your position against the competition by drawing a graph with the x-axis going from ‘mind’ to ‘heart’ oriented purrchase, and the y-axis going from ‘low’ to ‘high’ involvement, and plot where all of your competitors’ products are so that you can differentiate your own product from them.
Breakdown and diagramming – this is like thinking in terms of product assemblies and subassemblies to help you see how ideas evolve and interconnect. From your central problem, break it down into 8 themes or areas that make up the problem and write them down in an array that surrounds the core problem that’s written in the centre. Then take each theme and write them in a new space around the array, and break these down into 8 sub-themes and write them down like before around each theme. Continue breaking these down if desired.
Question checklist – to ask the right question that sparks the right idea, you’ll need to ask a lot of questions from as many different angles as you can. But set yourself a time limit to find the answer. Ask why you need to solve the problem? What’s unknown and needs knowing? What’s not understood? What isn’t the problem? What are the boundaries of the problem? What can’t be changed? Have you seen a similar problem elsewhere, and what did others do to solve it? Can you focus in or out of the problem? What can you make from the information you’ve got? And so on.
Matrix – don’t be left behind in the markets. Ask deeply what your business is and what it should be? Then define and organise your business according to its products, markets, functions, technologies and services. Then under each category, write down a list of key words that describe the above categories for your particular industry, then mix and match the lists to explore new opportunities.
Future planning – when business is good, prepare for the bad. When business is bad, prepare for the good. Plan for the worst case, best case and the most likely scenarios inbetween. Don’t just plan for only one scenario. What could happen in the future (do a STEEPLE, or socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental, political, legal and ethical, analysis)? What are the internal and external, competition, pricing, supply, etc. forces that’ll affect your position? What are your hopes and fears (do a SWOT, or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, analysis)? Then actively plan what actions you might have to take; as well as try to uncover new business opportunities. Think of the potential ‘global’ problem, then plan what you’ll do ‘locally’ if/when it happens? What is your organisation’s bigger picture (do a VRIO, or value, rarity, imitability and (capability of your) organisation, analysis)? The more possible futures you can foresee, the more it’ll help you to generate more options and see opportunities amongst the threats.
Random relationships – when focusing on an unrelated random word or object, think of ways how that may connect to or parody your challenge? Make a forced association between those two dissimilar concepts, even if tenuous. List all of your ideas in 5 minutes. Consider only one word or object at a time and don’t deliberately select a word i.e. it must be completely chosen by random methods, like via an online random word generator. The best words are simple, visual (so draw it too) and connection-rich. Also, creatively visualise and think of the colour and the feelings that the word or object evokes, the form, sounds, etc. and how these may summon desired qualities and energies to the challenge.
Consulting quotations – from famous quotations, consider the solution and record the thoughts and ideas they provoke. Defer any judgement until later. You could also read the autobiographies of the people you admire and think about the problem as if you’re in their shoes.
Solo brainstorming – make some index cards and write down one idea per card. Include all good, bad, bizarre and exotic ideas without regard to logic or value. Look for quantity and not evaluation or judgement until you’re dry of any further ideas.
Random isolation – break your challenge down into 12 common (or random) attributes, then randomly select 2 of them. Consider these attributes separately, and when combined, through free association. Diagram the words that immediately spring to mind when you think of those attributes on a chart that shows the cascading array of associations with each new word that’s written. Ask what links and associations can be made from those words on your diagram?
Visual/pattern language – divide your challenge into its attributes, then describe each one by drawing an abstract graphic symbol onto index cards to make a deck. Draw whatever feels right to you. Write the attribute it displays onto the back of each card. Shuffle and place them all picture-side up on the table, then try to group and regroup relationships randomly or force them together until something sparks; and record your ideas. Try looking at the cards side-on or upside-down too.
Word games – play word games (e.g. make sentences out of the word MINI, such as ‘Mice In Nasty Ink’), then make associations from what you create. Or listen to song lyrics and song, book and movie titles for ideas?
Hybrids – describe and picture unusual combinations (e.g. ‘a computer that’s also a swimming pool’). Take 2 or more random words and combine them into a portmanteau or phrase to create something new.
Combinations – list 10 random objects, ideas or variables from different domains, subjects from unrelated fields that suggest inspiration towards a solution, elements of extreme ideas, or logical with illogical ideas, in one column. Then list another 10 in the same way next to them. Now try to combine 1 object from each side to create something new. Alternatively, pick any 2, list the attributes of each one, then pick 1 attribute from each list to create something new. You could also cut out indexes of catalogues or books, put the fragments into a bowl, and pick 2 or 3 and think about them together. Try working on 2 totally unrelated problems side-by-side for they might combine to make something new or help solve each other?
Six thinking hats – this involves taking various standpoints, or placing on various ‘hats’, in order to analyse your problem from different angles. The blue hat is for thinking about the big picture (this hat is also used to manage or conduct the thinking process by setting the agenda, asking for summaries and reaching a conclusion). The white hat is for thinking about, gathering and analysing just the facts. The red hat is for using your feelings and intuitions without having to justify them. The yellow hat is for exploring the positives and benefits of an idea with optimism. The black hat is for exploring the negatives and risks of an idea with critical judgement (but don’t overuse this, and make sure to justify your cautionary comments). And the green hat is for focusing on the creativity, the possibilities and alternative ideas.
A simpler version of this is the dreamer, realist and critic. First come up with some far-out ideas, work them into a practical idea by looking at the essence(s) of them, and then try poking holes at the result. As another person, imagine what a harsh critic would say about the idea and modify accordingly.
Talking and listening to other people – do not bear preconceptions. Do not draw borders to your fluffy imagination. Don’t over-specialise, narrow your thinking or limit your boundaries of exploration. Don’t take anything for granted. This isn’t easy if you’re an expert in your field so ask non-experts for ideas too, such as people from different fields and backgrounds. Ask naturally open-minded, creative, ‘ideas people’, and listen to strangers if they twinkle unique insights too.
…We will look at the intuitive thinking techniques next time, but the above might already have given you plenty of ideas for how to generate new ideas to solve your problem or challenge.