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.
As a creative director, many years ago I was leading a brainstorm in on of our offices in China when the concept of a recipe was born. I contributed to the LinkedIn discussion, and have included a shortened version of my response on how to create ideas below.
Here’s what I came up with.
These are fairly easy: many authors have already listed the elements although not always using the same words.
First, the brain needs to have a clear understanding of the Problem or 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 ingredient is a Stimulus – something (anything!) that your brain uses to spark or inspire its imagination.
The recipe is basically this: 1) take a problem, 2) combine it with the stimulus, and 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.