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How To Create Ideas

As I was running a workshop on ‘How to Create Ideas’ in London a few months ago, I saw a group discussion on LinkedIn where the author was curious if creative techniques might be organised more efficiently, such as creating a periodic table of (creative) elements, or developing a recipe.

I was leading a brainstorm in on of our offices in China when the concept of a recipe was born. I contributed this article to the LinkedIn discussion, and have included a shortened version of my response on how to create ideas below.

Here’s my recipe for how to create an idea.

Is the Kitchen in Order?

One shouldn’t start cooking if the kitchen needs cleaning first. Step one may be to get things in order. There’s roughly seven aspects you might want to make sure you have at hand. Do you have:

  • Intelligence – research or knowledge about the problem
  • Imagination – an essential skill of your brainstorm team
  • Insights – what critical aspects of the information is more important?
  • Infinity – a simple ability to want far more ideas than less
  • Interaction – people who collaborate
  • Inspiration – ‘something’ that gets everything started
  • Ideas – no, not the ideas you’re looking for … other ideas that you might use to bend, break, snap or force-fit into other ideas

Once the kitchen is in order, you will need ingredients to create ideas. Easy!  Just two things.

Ingredients of an Idea

First, the brain needs to have a clear understanding of the Problem (some people call it the Conundrum.) Sometimes the problem can be seen as an Opportunity as in ‘This is a problem, but it’s also an opportunity for us to do something about it.’

Not necessarily bad or good, the Problem is the…

  • Issue, corner or obstacle to be addressed, removed, marginalised or resolved
  • Need or a wish, something that’s desired, to be fulfilled and satisfied

The second and final ingredient is a Stimulus – something (anything!) that your brain uses to spark or inspire its imagination. It can be something deliberately brought in (like brainstorm exercises or games) or something unconscious (something you see when walking down the street that stimulates another thought or potential idea.) Why not try to use both? 

Master Recipe and Variations

Here’s the basic recipe:

  1. Take a problem
  2. Combine it with the stimulus
  3. AHA!  You have a new idea

The recipe can be adapted in different ways. Here’s four variations.

Attributes and Elements – Break or separate a portion of the Problem down to one isolated attribute; for example, its size, colour, taste or one of working parts. The stimulus triggers us to change or adapt the attribute, or remove or replace it with something else. The new order creates a new idea.

Metaphors and Analogies – A Stimulus prompts us to compare the Problem with another similar or unrelated problem. By comparing or contrasting the two Problems, we get a new perspective – and thus, a new idea.

Free Association – Sometimes a genuinely random thought (the Stimulus) pops into our head. Our imagination bumps this Stimulus against the Problem and sparks an entirely new idea.

Force Fitting – Where Free Association is random and often unconscious, Force Fitting is conscious and deliberate. You force two elements together, usually against logic or reason, to create a new idea.

Once I came up with these four areas, I began to organise the brainstorm techniques into each category. Some techniques were simple, others elaborate. Other techniques – like Mind-Mapping or Synectics – are a combination of two or more recipes.

What have you used in the past to stimulate brainstorming?  What ingredients or other key aspects do you find work well?

Please add your comments and thoughts below.

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How To Create Ideas