Creative thinking techniques help us learn to proliferate ideas. When we learn to proliferate ideas we become better at divergent thinking – one of the most powerful tools in a problem solver's toolbelt.
When someone asks you to come up with ideas to solve a problem, how many do you typically produce? One? Two? Five?
The following example illustrates how we can use a few simple creative thinking techniques to generate tons of useful ideas.
The problem: How many different ways can we use a brick?
Our goal is forty ideas.
Step One – Empty Your Mind
Rapidly list all the ways you can think of, off the top of your head, to use a brick.
- Build a wall
- Build a mailbox
- Side a house
- Use it for a desk paperweight
- Use it as a melee weapon (whack someone on the head)
- Use it as a projectile weapon (throw it at someone)
- Use it to pave a sidewalk or patio
- Build a deck
Eight, total. Not many.
Step Two – Group the items into common themes
Several of my ideas fell into the category of 'building material.' So focusing on that, what other things can be built out of bricks?
- Outdoor bar
Eight more right there. My running total: 16.
Also, a few of the ideas fell into the category of 'small, hard, relatively heavy objects.' What other uses are there for that?
- Bug whacker
- Hold down sheets of cloth, plastic etc.
There's four more. My running total: 20
Step Three – Consider the common attributes
What are the attributes of bricks?
- Holds heat well / insulates
- Come in several earth-tone colors
"Holds heat well" inspires a new focus for ideas.
- Lining for a metal grill
- Something to protect a vulnerable surface from a hot pot or pan
- Mount a metal grill / smoker on a wood deck
- Mount a hot water heater on a wood / tile / linoleum floor
Also bricks are "hard." Do some uses require extra strength or durability?
- High explosives / hazardous materials storage buildings
- High explosives / hazardous materials handling facilities
- Backstop for a shooting range
- Firing position
Ten more there. Running total: 30. We are three quarters of our way to the target, and we've kept things pretty basic.
The creative thinking techniques I've used so far are fairly linear. To come up with really new and different ideas, we need to get more abstract in our thinking.
The next tool takes us into the abstract arena. It falls under the category of 'forced connections' – determining the relationship between two things that are seemingly unrelated.
Step Four: Force Connections
'Random words' is a basic tool for forcing connections. I pull out a random words list, close my eyes and point a finger at:
How could these words possibly help me come up with more uses for a brick?
Simply list the things you associate with each word, and 'force' a connection with bricks.
Here are the words and phrases that I associate with each:
- nut – small, tasty, almond, walnut, squirrel, fiber, pecan, pie, cookie, peanut, sold in bags, baseball games, sold alone or mixed
- pet – dog, cat, hamster, gerbil, snake, lizard, sold in specialty stores, cute, pet food, fish tank
- Mass – Catholic, church, service, Eucharist, sanctuary, baptism, wafer, wine, Pope, priest, nun, prayer, forgiveness, collection
- hospital – emergency, rooms, beds, patients, doctors, nurses, operations, x-ray, MRI, expensive, health care, ambulance, surgery, healing
- trophy – prize, engraving, given to the winner, valuable, prestige, mantle piece, display case, pride
Forcing connections with the words and phrases I get these ideas:
- Pet – dog – Build a doghouse
- Nut – squirrel – Build a squirrel / bird feeder
- Mass – service – Build a memorial
- Mass – service – Build an outdoor altar
- Hospital – x-ray – Line an X-ray or radiology room
- Mass – baptism – Build a baptismal font
- Trophy – mantle piece – Build a fireplace
- Trophy – display case – Build a trophy case
- Pet – fish tank – Build an aquarium stand or case
- Trophy – engraving – Create engraved pavers for fund raising
That's ten more, bringing my total up to 40. Goal achieved!
To be honest, this was too easy. I could have kept generating idea after idea by using other creative thinking tools.
And just think of what a GROUP of thinkers could come up with – in an innovation workshop, for a group of five I would have set the goal at 100-150 ideas.
"Forty uses for a brick" might have sounded daunting at first, based on the ideas at the top of our heads.
But as I have shown it doesn't take a lot of thinking to proliferate ideas, as long as you do it systematically, using proven tools and techniques.
Idea generation is the foundation of divergent thinking, which drives business creativity. Learn to proliferate ideas in this manner and you'll become a better innovator for it.
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